A Journey through Henri Matisse’s Most Famous Paintings
By Samra Taban

Henri Matisse is a name that will be etched in the realms of modern art for eternity. He was one of the most respected and well-known French artists of the 20th century. He was the foremost artist who personified Fauvism as an art movement. Fauvism, although short-lived, went on to become one amongst the most influential art movements in history. Matisse is considered as the leading figure of Fauvism where the artists (called the ‘fauves’ meaning ‘wild beasts’) used color in a sinuously unique manner to express light. With his health deteriorated by appendicitis, Matisse spent most of his 21st year in bed. His mother provisioned him with art supplies giving rise to a historical artist whose passion drove an entire art movement to a ground-breaking success. Later, he obtained a conventional art training in Paris. Most of his early work was still-life paintings. Matisse drew his inspiration from Impressionists like Edouard Manet and Paul Cezanne. He later began to make use of bolder colors and his paintings were often referred to as rebellious and controversial. Unlike other artists of his time, his paintings were orchestrated by his instinct over any technical knowledge. He was fondly called ‘King of the Fauves’. Women were one of Matisse’s favorite subjects to paint. Matisse’s celebrated work brought about a rebellion as much as it did a revolution.

La Raie Verte (1905) was one of his appreciated paintings. Also called the ‘Portrait of Madame Matisse’, he transforms his wife Amelie’s face into a mask that is divided by a green line, making her facial features appear abstract and creating an illusion of a third dimension in the painting. In the same year, he exhibited ‘Femme au Chapeau’, a painting of his wife wearing a stunning hat. This masterpiece shocked the visitors with the outrageous use of colors and unrealistic hues. The most intriguing part of the painting is that Madame Matisse wore a black dress when the painting as made. Matisse chose to add a heavy touch of Fauvism by throwing in vibrant colors. Young Sailor II (1906) was Matisse’s study of an 18-year old fisherman, a mellowed-down version of his wife’s portrait the previous year. While this painting adorns the walls of Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the first version remains in the private collection.

In the year 1910, Dance II got instantly recognized for his style and gained popularity. It was created for Russian art collector Sergei Shchukin. The painting depicts five nude people dancing in a circle, painted in an intense red color, massively contrasting the blue sky and the green landscape. Dance II served to be one of the central pieces that define modern art today. La Desserte Rouge (1911), known as the Red Room was created by Matisse in the year 1908 while he was at the peak of the Fauvist period. The painting was initially painted in blue but Matisse did not like the original version, hence he changed it to red.

Another one of his most controversial masterpieces was ‘Le Bonheur de Vivre’, translated as ‘The Joy of Living’. It portrays a group of nude men and women resting alongside each other in a landscape. It spread massive shock amongst the masses. This influential masterpiece of Fauvism was inspiration to artists like Pablo Picasso who painted one of his greatest works, ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ keeping Matisse’s masterpiece as a frame of reference. Matisse continued to paint even after being diagnosed with cancer right until he was unable to hold an easel; switching to paper collages.

Some artists do not just leave a mark on their canvases but also in the hearts of art lovers and amateur artists who hold their work as a source of inspiration. Henri Matisse was one such ‘fauve’ who was not easily contained by the traditional style of art creation. On the contrary, he barely stayed within the lines. His style was bold, expressive and almost always controversial, thus making his work a recurring affair in the lives of art students and enthusiasts.

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