Much of Henri Matisse's career spanned the entire first half of the twentieth century. But, he is mainly credited with the work he did in Fauvism, which was one of the movements which appeared prior to Cubism, and introduced many
of the techniques which would be noted in this form of art which followed. During this time, several young artists in Paris, were beginning their careers. Paul Cezanne was an influence to
many of these artists, following the impressionist period and movement. The pictoral language which had encompassed the impressionist movement, was something these artists wished to remove themselves from.
Many of the young artists during this period, did work under Gustav Moreau, and created works in his studio. While he encouraged his students to develop their own personal style and voice, Moreau did favor art forms which showcased decorative and exotic styles, which was present in many of the works which came out of his studio. At this studio, Henri Matisse met Charles Camoin, Henri Manguin, and Georges Rouault. At a later date, this group also welcomed Georges Braque, and other artists, who were well known for their unique styles, and art forms they had created, during this time period.
Vibrant colors were a common theme, in the many pieces of art which this group was famous for. They developed a very free style of painting, in where the colors used, represented the images, independent of the actual hue, represented the images which they focused on in their art. In 1905, Henri Matisse, along with Salon d'Automne, Derain, Camoin, and other artists, were showcased at a gallery. Their works were shown around an Italianate, which was created by another artist of the time.Art critic, Gil Blas, was prompted to write "Look! A Donatello among the wild beast!" , which christened the group, and the work they had created for this gallery.
Colorism, in a radical and arbitrary form, were behind Fauvism as an art movement. Unlike the styles which appeared after 1910, and the avant garde style, Fauvism wasn't meant to be its own movement, or style, but critics and the
general public perceived it as such. The art form, for this reason, ended in around 1907, and following this period, the different artists who were the leaders of the movement, followed their own, divergent paths. Prior to Cubism
becoming the next popular movement, even with its lack of distinction as a movement, Fauvism was seen as the most popular movement, and was the most advanced movement of the time, just prior to World War I.
During the 1905 Salon D'Automne, Henri Matisse was seen as a leader of the movement by his peers. He was considered to be the most artistic and most talented of the group, plus the fact that he was the oldest, and most trained artist, made him a figure which others surrounding the movement, looked up to as inspiration and as a leader of the movement. In fact, in 1901, Derrain asked Henri Matisse to visit his parents, and persuade them to believe that painting was a respectable form of work, during this time period. Fauvism was only a limited part of his career, but the unique colors, and distinct style, followed Henri Matisse for the remainder of his career, and throughout the other movements which followed this brief stint in his style and work.
"The courage to return to the purity of means," was later quoted by Matisse, to be the starting point of the Fauvism movement. Matisse's true artistic liberation, in terms of the use of color to render forms and organize spatial planes, came about first through the influence of the French painters Manet, Gauguin and Cezanne and the Dutch artist Van Gogh, whose work Matisse studied closely beginning about 1899. Although others artists like Vlaminck and Dufy focused on the "wild" aspect of this movement, Henri Matisse was more concerned with the free color, which allowed for expression in his work. It allowed for an open, free way to depict the objects which were the central focuses of his work, allowing for a "decorative," style.
“What I dream of is an art of balance, purity, and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter... a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue. ”
Following 1907, the main focus of his work was similar to that of Pierre Bonnard, rather than his former companions, many of whom did not realize the full potential in the Fauvism movement. Vlaminck and others like Georges Braque,
later went on to form the Cubism movement, and did work with Pablo Picasso. Although he kept himself at a distance, Matisse also played a role in the creation of Cubism which was to displace
Fauvism. It was he who initiated Picasso into African art (I'art negre) of which he was a collector. Wassily Kandinsky, whose book On the Spiritual in Art, published in 1912, constitutes
the fundamental theory of abstract art and contrasted the two artists: "Matisse: colour, Picasso: form. Two great tendencies, one great goal".
After 1910, Fauvism's color scheme was important to German Expressionists, who were part of the Brucke Group, and also for some of the Russian avant garde members, like Marc Chagall, prior to the October Revolution of 1917. Following this period, the art form shifted to the vanguard movements, seeking a change from the social and cultural environments. These included futurism, dada, Bauhaus, and surrealism. Matisse selected to follow a discrete middle course, which were not disturbed or influenced, by the catalyst events which took place during the time. In this way, he was seen as a counter-image to Picasso, and the work he produced, which were extremely influential of the century, and the events which took place during the times.
Thanks to the influence he had on painting following the Second World War, Henri Matisse's reputation is higher than it has ever been before. Following the the principle discussed by Hans Hofmann, that color was responsible for structural configurations behind the picture, was showcased in American abstract art. Works of Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keeffe, and other color field painters, showcased this style in their pieces. Following this concept, Matisse is an influential figure of the 20th century, and a decisive figure of the time. By defining a clearly pictoral language, of colors and arabasque lines, rather than looking at painting as a means to an end, Matisse had a great impact on future movements, and works, produced by artists in the 20th century.