The celebrated life and career of artist Henri Matisse rest on the rich legacy of his oeuvre that fundamentally changed the course of modern art and continues to serve as an inspiration to artists even today. Constantly exploring and evolving through stylistic innovations, the artist adopted several mediums through the course of his career to reinterpret the genre of landscape, still life, portraiture, domestic and studio interiors, and particularly focused on the female figure through his unrestrained and evolving visual vocabulary.
Born in 1869 in Cateau- Cambrésis in the north of France, Henri Matisse began his career with training in law. Simultaneously, he attended his first drawing class during this time, and painted one of his first works when an illness confined him to bed for nearly a year.
He arrived in Paris as a twenty-one-year-old aspiring artist in 1891. He first studied under the tutelage of Adolphe Bouguereau, before being discovered by Gustave Moreau, whose atelier he joined the following year. With the rapid growth in his understanding of artistic tendencies prevalent at the time, his practice was also impacted by several historic art movements that had reinforced the definition of modern art, such as Neoclassicism, Realism, Impressionism, and Post-Impressionism. Thriving in the vibrant Parisian art scene, Matisse fervently began to experiment with different styles to reach his unique idiom achieved by varied brushwork and juxtaposition of light.
He publicly exhibited his works for the first time in 1896 at the Salon of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts, with a work titled ‘Woman Reading,’ which received such adulation that it was acquired by the state. While his work titled La Desserte was poorly critiqued the subsequent year, it also marked the beginning of a significant transitional phase. Despite an initial tendency towards a dry academic manner, he soon returned to a palette of primary colours, approaching their intensity in full fervour. During his visit to Paul Signac at Saint-Tropez in 1904, Matisse became spellbound by the bright light of southern France. Creating luminous landscapes populated by nude figures in recreational settings, these works were based on a revival of Neo-Impressionist painting in Matisse’s style.