Henri Matisse



SEE ALSO Fauvism and Royal Academy of Art in London Exhibit


What characterized Fauvism was that we rejected imitative colors and that with pure colors we obtained stronger reactions – more striking simultaneous reactions; and there was also the luminosity of our colors.

The courage to return to the purity of the means…beautiful blues, reds, yellows, stuff to stir the sensual depths of man

Given our time, what we had behind us, we did what we were obliged to do

The result of a necessity within one, not a voluntary attitude arrived at by deduction or reasoning, it was something that only painting can do

Fauvism is not everything but it is the foundation of everything.

Whenever I was blocked by difficulties, I would say to myself: “I have colors and a canvas, and I must express myself with purity, even if it means doing so sketchily – by putting down four or five spots of color, for example, or by tracing four or five lines that have a plastic expression.



Enrolled at the Academie Julian run by Adolphe-William Bouguereau and Gabriel Ferrier, both eminent Salon painters with a rigorously academic approach to teaching. Matisse remarks on his experience there:

Lost in these chaotic surroundings, discouraged from the moment of my arrival at Julian’s by the “perfection” of the painted figures fabricated there from Monday to Friday, and so meaningless that their “perfection” made me dizzy, I dragged myself off to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts where Gustave Moreau and two other professors, Bonnat and Gerome, corrected candidates for entry to the studios. There, from Gustave Moreau, I got intelligent encouragement. 


Enters Ecole des Beaux-Arts in March. He scored 42nd place out of the 86 open. He may have attended class before official entry at which time Rouault was the star. He and Albert Marquet were good friends and painting partners. Also hung out with Evenpoel.

Moreau encouraged M to submit to the recently founded Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts with its annual show in the Palais des Beaux-Arts in the Champs-de-Mars btw the Ecole Militaire and the Seine. Seven were accepted, five hung, two bought by the state, one for, and chosen by the President’s wife, Mme Felix Faure for her bedroom at Rambouillet (of an interior scene with a woman reading) and a still life by a private buyer. The President, Puvis de Chavannes, nominated M for associate member which went uncontested. He now could exhibit several works each year with out submission to the jury. 


February: His The Dinner-Table received a bad hanging showing the displeasure with Matisse’s walking down the impressionist road. This was a salon which split with the official Salon of the establishment and goes to show how after 20 years impressionism was still looked down upon. That said this painting is closer to interiors painted by the Nabis and still better an example of his ‘modern’ work.

This painting’s canvas is dominated by the surface of a table spread with china and glass shows his hard schooling and hours of copying paintings at the Louvre such as Chardin’s Still Life with Skate or Fragonard’s The Music Lesson. This also displays Moreau’s principle that new art be founded on a solid knowledge of the old masters. Moreau defended the painting mentioning the pictorial reality of the glassware, “you can hang your hat on the glass stoppers”, he said. 


January: Marries Amelie. First week of honeymoon studying Turner in London on Pissarro’s advice. 6 months in Corsica and 6 in Toulouse.

M on the Mediterranean wrote to Andre Marchand, "I went to Corsica one year and it was by going to that marvelous country that I learned to know the Mediterranean. I was quite dazed by it all; everything shines, everything is colour and light."

Still Life with Pewter Jug: “the material of the objects is almost obliterated by the material of the paint itself, and where the rigorous marks made by the palette knife and by the end of the brush match the freedom of the scrawling movement of the brush."

At this time, in a letter to his father, Evenepoel writes that he “was unable to sanction” M. Marquet supported him. See the two Nudes page 19.1


Matisse left the Ecole, now a year after Moreau’s death, and he was reaching the school’s age limit of 30. It may have also been his new teacher, Fernand Cormon’s opinion of his view of the Quai St Michel. He joined a class in the Rue de Rennes by Eugene Carriere. Meets Jean Puy and Andre Derain.


He is living in a cramped apartment on the Quai St Michel overlooking the Seine. He and Marquet take trips to Arceuil and the Luxembourg gardens. They are attempting to “discover ways in which to release painting from its descriptive or documentary role: the canvases… revel in the texture, the color and the very substance of paint.”

Le Pont Saint-Michel "already shows the beginnings of his new predilection for color."4  Landscape at Arceuil: Black lines make the surface jump towards the viewer closing the space between the audience and the picture. Male Model (c00), solidity of planes, even shadow (planes). Interior with Harmonium, a painting of his apartment, exhibits differences with Impressionism as it is not such a comfortable, pleasurable picture; as opposed to The Dinner Table. He never parted with Interior, a record of his daily life: “stark, uncomfortable, pinched.”1

We begin possibly seeing the influence of Cezanne. C starting to emerge from obscurity in 1900. M would have seen C’s work on regular visits to Ambroise Vollard’s gallery in the rue Lafitte and at the Salon des Independants in 98 and 99. He never met C saying, “an artist’s words do not matter essentially.” (He did meet Pissarro, Redon, Rodin, and later Renoir.) M scrapes together money to buy a small bathers Three Bathers (1875-1877), around 1899, from Vollard and believed C had “unshackled painting from its representational role by making the paint itself the subject of the picture: the way in which every form in a C canvas is invested with equal weight regardless of its size” 1

M and D were eager to impose their imagination on what they saw. D and M very articulate with each other. One of the first works of D that M saw was a copy of Ghirlandaio’s Christ Carrying the Cross in the Louvre M: “(D) not only put back the color but reinforced the expression” The Louvre nearly threw D out for ‘assassinating beauty’. They probably saw little of each other outside the classroom.

Now M, D, V, Puy and Marquet are all working together in Carriere’s studio. M recalls, "How many sessions, tests of patience have we sat through? Side by side each dragging his own particular burden along with him together with a respect for the thoughts of those beside him which seems almost inhuman. Meal times and the end of the day did not bring them any closer. Each would close his box and put his canvas away without a word to anyone.


No allowance from his father since the Dinner Table bust at the Salon de la Nationale. Both he and his wife experience ill health. She has to close the millinery shop that she opened after their marriage. They have three children to support. His artistic “investigations into the way sensations could be transmitted through paint in the way that he understood Cezanne to have worked, had put a virtual stop to any hopes he had nursed of making a living from his art.” leaves him on the verge of abandoning painting. A failed attempt to get 12 collectors to give him a small annual income for paintings did not happen. There are many letters concerning his struggles with his paintings. The subject matter changes and we see interiors peopled with costumed characters.

M talks to Vollard about a show, the proceeds going to collectors as future reimbursement? Vollard had bought M paintings but would not move forward until encouraged by the critic Roger Marx.


June: The show includes 45 canvases, still life's and landscapes mostly, progress since Dinner Table. Not much attention. Press notice and catalogue written by Marx. M was encouraged by having a show at all.

M realizes that Derain and Vlaminck have been influenced as well by the Post Impressionists Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gosh, and Seurat.

Summer: M and family joins Signac at St. Tropez staying in S’s old house, La Ramode. Signac now in his new villa, La Hune. M’s first significant exposure to the fading PI generation. Also met Cross that summer. “The creation of light as a physical entity on the canvas rather than a reproduction of its effects was of paramount importance to Matisse, as it was to be for other Fauve painters.”1 One day Signac calls M’s The Terrace painted at La Hune, ‘slack’. The story goes he went on a walk with his wife to calm down after the argument and paints The Gulf of St. Tropez.  This painting is indicative of Fauve work, dominated by strokes of red in the foreground which occasionally slide and slip in the excitement of execution. Elements outlined: use of brush as pencil or crayon. Dab of red pushes up against the seated figure of M’s son Pierre: paint invades the composition.

He used this painting when back in Paris to paint Luxe, calme et volupte’ in September. Luxe can be seen as a discreet challenge to NI. Free Divisionist technique, utopian ideal, and used Cross’ “inner vision” technique (working indoors with your imagination, inner vision, then outdoors to improve, then holistically back in the studio). M said later that he was discovering at this time that the secret to his art consisted of “a meditation on nature, on the expression of a dream which is always inspired by reality.” The title is taken from the refrain in Baudelaire’s poem L’Invitation au voyage: La’-bas, tout n’est qu’ordre et beaute’ Signac bought Luxe at the 05 Salon des Independants. Others remarked that M not suited for the Divisionist technique though. M'c critic of Neo-Impressionism, "Objects are differentiated only by the luminosity given them. Everything is treated in the same way. Ultimately there is only a tactile vitality comparable to the “vibrato” of the violin or the voice."


Summer: M went to Collioure, a remote fishing port near the Spanish border, probably recommended  by Signac who painted there. He was immediately impressed by the southern light and Gauguin's Oceanic works he was introduced to by the collector Daniel De Monfried.

D joined him 6 weeks after M arrived into a cheap boarding house room on the quayside with his family. M mostly sketching in order to build a body of work to use during the fall and winter months. This work changed the perspective on what constitutes finished work. He expressed his doubts on what he was doing in letters to Signac. D produced twice the canvases M did. "We were at that time like children in the face of nature and we let our temperaments speak, even to the point of painting from the imagination when nature herself could not be used… to free the picture from any imitative or conventional contact." He also noted to himself, that he “use(d) drawing to indicate the expression of objects in relation to one another”. Abolition of the conventional sense of the distance between the canvas and the spectator is a hallmark of Fauvism. M’s paintings at Collioure evident his concern with the substance of things.

Space as the subject of drawing led to the spaces between marks of color. X-rays of View of the Port, Collioure show extensive use of pencil. The viewer gets a feeling that M is in the picture and has a sense of what is behind him. Abolition of the conventional sense of the distance btw canvas and spectator is a hallmark of Fauvism. M’s paintings at Collioure evident his concern with the substance of things.


His Le Bonheur de vivre (Joy of Life) (1905-6) had an enormous impact at the Salon des Independants. It is an ancient and academic theme: paysage champetre (rural landscape) whose most admired model was Giorgione's Fete champetre (now thought possibly to be Titian)3


Comments on The Blue Nude (Souvenir of Biskra) source 3 page 34. Pose of Venus. Example of how M had "moved the Arcadian primitivism of his Fauve work towards a more sculptural primitivism responding to African sculpture."



1)    Fauvism, Sarah Whitfield, Thames and Hudson pub, 1991.
2)    Royal Academy of Art, London, 2002.
3)    Cubism and Culture, Mark Antliff and Patricia Leighten. Thames & Hudson world of art, 2001.
4)    Pompadeau National Modern Art Museum, Paris, 2003.