Henri Matisse, and his paintings
Althought the long career of Henri Matisse spanned the entire first half of the twentieth century, art history ties him closely to Fauvism, on of the movements giving vitality to the French artistic milieu in the first decade of the century, before
the appearance of Cubism. In those years a number of young painters were beginning their careers in Paris under the influence of Paul Cezanne and the Post-Impressionists. They sought to free themselves from the pictorial language that had been
established by Impressionism.
A group of these young artists had spent time at the studio of the Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau, who favored exotic and decorative subjects, but who encouraged his students to develop their own individual personalities. There Matisse met Charles Camoin, Henri Manguin, Albert Marquet, and Georges Rouault. later this group was joined by Georges Braque, and other artists.
To a greater or lesser degree each of these artist developed a very free style of painting, using vibrant, arbitrary color - that is to say, color independent from the actual hue of the object represened in the picture.
In the 1905 Salon d'Automne several works by Camoin, Derain, Manguin, and Henri Matisse were shown together in one gallery, surrounding an Italianate bust by another artist. The daring of their ideas caused the expected reaction when Louis Vauxcelles, art critic of the magazine Gil Blas, exclaimed: "Look! A Donatello among the wild beasts!", thus christening the group.
There was behind Fauvism no other theoretical argument than its radical and arbitrary colorism. Unlike the great avant-garde styles that appeared after 1910, it was never meant to be an organized movement (though it was perceived as such by critics and the public). Perhaps for this reason Fauvism had effectively ended by 1907, and later its former members followed divergent paths. But until Cubism came to the fore of the Parisian artistic scene in the years just before World War I, Fauvism was the most advanced movement of the time.
Henri Matisse's colleagues at the 1905 Salon d'Automne considered him their leader; not only was he the most gifted painter among them but he was also the oldest and had a somewhat professorial demeanor. (For these latter reasons, Deerain asked him in 1901 to visit his parents and persuade them that painting was a respectable calling.) Although Fauvism was a brief episode in Matisse's career, the interests and concerns raised in those years would remain in his work until the end of his life.
In later years, Henri Matisse would point to "the courage to retuirn to the purity of means" as the "starting point" of Fauvism, and this is exaclty what it mean for his art: a place to begin, and from which to extend the legacy of Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, and the Post-Impressionists. WhhileVlaminck and Dufy were more interested in the "wild" and expressive aspect of Fauvism, the liberation of pure color opened to Matisse a way to free painting from the depicted object, conceiving of the picture as a colored surface organized according to its own rules and tending toward the "decorative," in the highest sense of the word. Far from wanting to provoke, Matisse said,
After 1907, his goals were more closely related to those painter like Pierre Bonnard than to his formal companions, some of whom did not realize Fauvism's full potential, as with Vlaminck, or who later followed other directions - like Georges Braque, who went on to collaborate with Picasso in the invention of Cubism; or like Derain, who also inclined toward Cubism, though to a much lesser extend.
“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. ”
Fauve color was od decisive importance for the German Expressionists of the Brucke group after 1910, as it was for some members of the Russian avant-garde before the October Revolution of 1917. After that period the impetus in modern art shifted to those vanguard movements that sought a transformation of the social and cultural environment - Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, the Bauhaus. Matisse, remaining within the limits of painting, pursued a discreet middle course that seemed never to be disturbed by catalysmic events of the century. He became in this respect a counter-image to Picasso.
Henri Matisse's reputation is perhaps higher now than ever, thanks in part tohis influence on American painting after World War II. In the postwar era, the principle, espoused by Hans Hofmann, that color is responsible for the structural configuration of picture became essential for much of American abstract art, as in the work of Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Barnett Newman, and the Color Field painters. In this context, Henri Matisse is the decisive figure for twentieth-century painting. His pricipal legacy is to have defined a purely pictorial language of color and arabesque line for the modern age, as opposed to the idea of painting as a means to an end, which was the prevailing view for much of the historic avant-garde.