Henri Emile Benoit Matisse was a revolutionary painter of the early 20th century. He was born on December 31, 1869 in a small town named Bohain-en-Vermandois in northern France. His father was a grain merchant and his mother came from a long line of tanners. She was also a talented porcelain painter and helped her husband in his business by running the section selling household paints. She would often advise customers and had a great sense of color, which Henri inherited from her. He lived in a small, run-down house with his family, and was the first son born to his parents. His ancestors had lived in the same area for centuries, and it was very backward and under developed. He had a stern and disciplined upbringing as a child. He recalls being a frail, dreamy child, not well suited to the rigorous lifestyle of the north.
In 1887, Henri Matisse went to Paris to study law. After his graduation, he worked as a court administrator in Le Cateau-Cambrésis. He did not enjoy this profession but managed to pass the bar exam with distinction in 1888 and thus began practicing law on the insistence of his father, who helped him to obtain a clerical position at a law office. The following year he had to be treated for appendicitis, which meant he had to take a respite from work. While he was recovering from this, his mother bought him some art supplies to while away the time. He took to it immediately and knew that once he had discovered his passion for painting, he could not go back to practicing law. Despite his father’s admonitions, he quit his job at the law office and began to work as a full time painter.
His mother, however, encouraged him the whole way through. In 1891, he enrolled at the Julian Academy to study art, but left within a year as he was not impressed with the perfectionist style of art practiced there. He then studied with the artist Gustave Moreau, which proved to be more fruitful. Soon, Matisse began exhibiting his work as part of group exhibitions, including Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. He received positive reviews for his work, and then began exhibiting in London and Corsica. He then met the artists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, whose distinct style of painting in small dots of color had a significant influence on his work. By 1901, he was exhibiting his work at more progressive galleries such as Salon des Indépendants, and in 1904 he had his first solo exhibition.
His most creative and productive period was from 1904-1905, during which time he had visited Southern France and gained immense inspiration. Some of his famous works from the time include “Luxe, calme et volupté”, “Open Window” and “Woman with a Hat”. His particular style of painting bold, distorted images came to be known as Fauvism, and he was the founder of this movement. Other than this, Matisse also dabbled in sculpture and drawings. He continued to paint and enjoyed immense success, got to travel to several countries for his exhibitions and received numerous important commissions. One of his final projects was decorations for the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, near Nice. He was married to Amélie Noellie Parayre with whom he had two sons. He also had another daughter from a model with whom he was involved before his marriage. Henri Matisse died in 1954 at the age of 84. He is remembered as one of the most influential and important modern artists.