Henri Emile Benoit Matisse (1869-1954) is regarded by many as one of the greatest figures in modern art. Henri Matisse was born in December of 1869 in Le Cateau, France; the son of a middle-class family, Matisse practiced law as a young man. In 1890, however, while recovering slowly from an attack of appendicitis, his mother gave him a set of paints and he became intrigued by the practice of painting. Two years later, he went to Paris to study art formally.
His training was fairly formal and Matisse's early style was quite conventional; he made many copies after the old masters. He also studied more contemporary art, especially that of the french impressionists, and he began to experiment, earning a reputation as the rebel of the class.By 1899 Matisse was becoming interested in and influenced by the work of Paul Cezanne, and Vincent Van Gogh . Then, in 1903 and 1904, Matisse encountered the pointillist painting of Henri Edmond Cross and Paul Signac .
By 1905 Matisse had produced some of his strongest works, including a striking painting of his wife, Green Stripe (Madame Matisse). In the same year Matisse exhibited this and similar paintings along with works by his artist companions, including Andre Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck. Together, this group of post-impressionist painters was dubbed les fauves (literally, “the wild beasts”) because of their use of vivid colors, distortion of shapes and emotionally charged styles.Around 1910, another theme was beginning to develope in Matisse's work. In 1911 he completed a number of mural panels depicting music and dance. These themes gave Matisse the freedom to invent and play with form placing expression and movement first before anatomical correctness or realism.
Matisse always emphasized the importance of an intuitive approach when creating a work of art. He argued that an artist did not have complete control over the outcome and that the process of creation was an organic one in which the artist became almost carried along and the work took on a life of it's own.From the 1920s until his death, Matisse spent much time in the south of France, particularly Nice, painting local scenes with a thin, fluid application of bright color. he also developed his 'decoupage' pieces; brilliantly colored paper cutouts arranged casually, but with an unfailing eye for design, on a canvas surface. Matisse died in Nice on November 3, 1954. Unlike many artists, he was succesful during his lifetime, esteemed by critics and inspiring a younger generation of artists. Matisse's work reflects a number of influences: the decorative qualities of Eastern art, the tribal forms of African masks, the vivid colors of French impressionism, and the approaches of Paul Cezanne and the cubists.