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Henri Matisse or Henri Émile Benoît Matisse was a world-renowned French artist. Born on 31st December 1869, this revolutionary artist was also a sculptor, printmaker, a draughtsman and a master painter. Known for his original draughtsmanship and brilliant use of colors, Matisse is regarded as one of the most influential French artists of the 20th century.

A leading figure in modern art, his mastery in a vivid use of color won him accolades all around the world. Given below are some of his most famous paintings:

Woman with a Hat (Femme au chapeau)

Painted in 1905, this masterpiece by Matisse attracted major controversy leading to the initiation of the first 20th century modern art moment – Fauvism. Fauvism comes from the term Fauve, meaning wild beast. It was coined by an art critic Louis Vauxcelles to describe works by Henri Matisse and André Derain exhibited in Paris, in 1905. Fauvism became associated with artists who use vivid colors in their paintings.

Although labeled as a Fauve (wild beasts) in the early parts of his career, he is also recognized as an upholder of the classical French style of painting. He was one of those artists who successfully transitioned from the Fauve style once the Fauvist moment declined in 1906. Matisse continued to adapt to the changing forms of art, gaining inspiration from events happening around him.

While the use of intense colorism in his paintings in the 1900s earned him a reputation as a Fauve, some of his most famous works came in the decade after 1906. During this phase, he developed a trademark style that involved the use of decorative patterns and flattened forms. This painting is considered as his best-known work from his Fauve period.

This painting was first exhibited at Salon d’Automne, along with works by several other Fauves.

Woman with a Hat has a special significance in Matisse’s careers, in that it marked a stylistic transition from controlled brushstrokes to a more fluent and expressive form. Characterized by a non-naturalistic and vivid use of colors and free-flowing brushstrokes, the painting attracted criticism for being sketchy or of unfinished quality.

Amélie, the artist’s wife, was the source of inspiration for this painting. She posed as a French bourgeoisie for this portrait style painting. She is seen carrying all the classic attributes of the French upper class like holding a fan in a gloved arm and a fancy hat on her head. The vibrant hues of her costumes were all added by Matisse to make the painting more expressive as she reportedly wore a black dress while posing.

The artwork was acquired by the Stein family soon after the initial exhibition. Eventually, Sarah and Michael Stein took the painting to San Francisco, where it was sold to the Haas Family in the 1950s.

 In 1990 Elise S. Haas finally donated this work to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where it rests today.

The Music (La Musique)

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The Music, painted in 1910, was commissioned by Sergei Shchukin for his Moscow mansion. He placed the painting along with another famous work by Matisse, The Dance. The painting was prepared without any preliminary sketches and contained marks of alterations. During this phase, he developed a trademark style that involved the use of decorative patterns and flattened forms. He, along with Picasso and Marcel, is credited to lead revolutionary evolutions in the plastic arts in the early parts of the 20th century.

Through La Musique, Matisse wanted to create an effortless composition. However, in practice, this painting was not at all easy to produce. Henri Matisse himself said that he saw composition as an art of arranging various elements available at an artists’ disposal in a decorative manner in an attempt to aesthetically express his/her feelings.

The painting has a perfect balance of colors supported by the use of repeating shapes. Matisse used horizontal and vertical lines to effortlessly unite the two figures in the painting. Another interesting feature to note in the two main figures of the painting is their hairstyle and the way they cross their legs. One can not help but find similarities with another of his painting titled The Dance. Both paintings use a beautiful composition of blue and orange colors. Another common link between the two paintings is that both attempts to depict the attainment of flawlessness by immersing in creativity.

The Green Stripe (La Raie Verte)

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Also known as Portrait of Madame Matisse, Green Stripe was painted in 1905. The painting is another depiction of Matisse’s wife Amélie. This 20th-century portrait is one of his most famous paintings. As suggested by the name, the painting has a green band dividing the face in half. Using this green slash to bisect the face, he wanted to portray light and shadow, without using a typical shading technique. The green stripe appears as an artificial shadow, dividing Amélie Matisse’s face from the center. This creates a chromatic division – a cool and a warm side. The use of vivid colors throughout the portrait provides a sense of natural lighting, and visible brushstrokes create a sense of drama. In this way, he wanted to describe the painting by color alone.

The painting obtains most of its strength from its use of simplistic geometric patterns complimented by the bright colors. Trimming the spatial modulation to the bare minimum, the beauty of this masterpiece lies in its purity.

The Goldfish

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The Goldfish is part of a series produced by Matisse in 1912. Introduced to Europe in the 17th century, goldfish became a repeating subject of many of his works. There are as many as nine paintings by Matisse containing a depiction of goldfish. In addition to this, there are several prints and drawings of his inspired by goldfish. This work is still more unique as the goldfish act as a focal point in the painting. The reason behind Matisee’s particular interest in goldfish remains a question. What made him develop this particular interest in goldfish? A possible answer could be found in his visit to Tangier, Morocco. Visiting Tangier in 1912, he spent nearly three months there. He was particularly interested in the way which locals spent hours gazing at their goldfish bowls.

He also traveled to several other parts of the world. The particularities he observed during this travel inspired several of his artworks.

The bright colors used to paint The Goldfish immediately attract our attention. The blue-green background perfectly contrasts the bright orange used to paint the goldfish. The color composition makes the whole scene to appear bright and lively. This technique is extensively used by Fauve artists and is a trademark of many of Matisse’s earlier works. Matisse softened the color tones used in his later works, but bold orange remains a characteristic of his fauvist years that influenced his use of colors even later in his career.

Matisse admired Moroccans’ lifestyle, much like most of the Europeans who visited North America. This painting and the used goldfish is a representation of this appeal. The goldfish in the painting represents serenity and a calm state of mind.

The Woman in a Purple Coat

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Painted in 1937, this masterpiece is a brilliant example of a composition that used color and light to represent his emotions. The painting reflects the emotions of the artist towards life and not just towards his model. The model in this painting is Lydia Delectorskaya. She was a Russian and the caretaker of Matisse in his last years. Lydia was very different from most of the other models for his paintings. With her golden hair and blue eyes, Matisse’s approval of her for the painting came as a surprise to many.

The painting had a trademark style that involved the use of decorative patterns and flattened forms. The painting has an eye-catching mix of colors juxtaposed with each other. While certain objects in the painting have no definite outline, most of the other things are surrounded by thick black outlines. The use of purple color for Lydia’s coat almost make her pop out of the lounge on which she rests. The use of repeating patterns and the presence of multiple elements in the painting also provides a three-dimensional sense to the piece. While the use of different patterns in the background gives an orientation of the room, the flowers and the magazine provide a sense of depth to the painting.

Lydia was 25 when she met Matisse, who was 65 at the time. Hiring of Lydia by Matisse became a controversial event in his life. His wife accused Matisse of being physically involved with Lydia, a claim he denied. He had to fire Lydia after this incident. Her wife, not satisfied with this, still left him. He later hired Lydia again as his assistant.

One of his most popular works, this painting not only represents an important historical event in his life but it is also a part of his immense legacy as an artist.