During his short career as a clerk in a law office, Henri Matisse secretly took painting classes, eventually devoting himself to the pursuit of art full-time. He went to study in Paris, first at the Académie Julian and then at the
École des Beaux-Arts, where he trained in the traditional academic style of his teachers Adolphe-William Bouguereau and Gustave Moreau. Under the influence of painters such as the Impressionists and Cézanne, as well as the
light-filled landscapes of the French Riviera, Matisse forsook these conservative roots and developed a new style based on flat shapes of vivid color. In 1905, he exhibited work at the Salon d'Automne in Paris as the leader of the
Fauves (French for "wild beasts"). This was an avant-garde movement that reduced painting to a bright palette, simple forms, and exuberant brushwork in order to communicate the fundamental elements of reality and sensation.
Matisse painted The Young Sailor in 1906, at the height of his involvement with the Fauves. The sitter of this picture is an eighteen-year-old fisherman, Germain Augustin Barthélémy Montargès, from the small Mediterranean village of Collioure, near the Spanish border. Against the flat, bright pink background, Germain wears typical fisherman's garb: a navy blue cap, a pullover over a white undershirt and blue-and-pink striped jersey, baggy green pants, green-and-white checked socks, and sturdy, laced-up shoes with rubber soles. His broad face is flat and mask-like, and the contours of his rounded limbs are crisp and defined, creating a sharp contrast to the loose brushstrokes that constitute them. Germain's rather theatrical looks and the work's bold palette, in which the figure's green and blue outfit is set against the pink, candy-colored ground, combine to make this painting one of Matisse's most decorative portraits in the Fauve manner.