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Henri Matisse

There was nothing in his family background to suggest that Henri Matisse (1869-1954) should become an artist. His father was a grain dealer and would have liked his son to take over the family business. Matisse started law school, but when, during a long stay in hospital in 1890, he got the opportunity to paint, he knew that he wanted to work with art.
Matisse moved to Paris and had his first exhibition in 1896. Impressionism and Pointillism influenced him for a while, but in the years up to 1905 he freed himself of the impressionists’ use of colour to depict light. Instead he used colour as colour. In 1905 Matisse advanced to the front rank of young, French artists. He developed a more colouristic and free way of painting, which by art critics was named Fauvism. And in 1909 he painted the famous painting ”The Dance” to the order of the major Russian collector Sergei Shchukin.
Already at the beginning of the 1920s Matisse belonged among Europe’s leading artists and was commissioned to produce stage sets, book illustrations, decorative works and glass paintings.
In the 1930s Matisse took up an interest in paper collages. In 1941 the artist had a serious surgery and as a convalescent the cut-out paper collages became an alternative to working in front of the easel. Lying in his bed he cut out shapes of coloured paper, and his assistant fastened – according to Matisse’s instructions – the cut-out shapes onto the wall with pins. In the 1930s Matisse had supplied illustrations to magazines and books published by the publisher Tériade, who had also published books with illustrations made by Picasso. Tériade encouraged Matisse to carry on working with paper collages.
Matisse worked on the paper collages for the book ”Jazz” mainly 1943-44. The motifs take inspiration from circus – and from memories of a journey that Matisse made to Tahiti in 1930. But some pictures also indicate the artist’s philosophical and cognitive contemplations. The text of the book consists of a series of short texts stating Matisse’s contemplations about art and life, reproduced in his own handwriting. The paper collages are reproduced as serigraphs in the book, which was published I 1947.
Matisse is one of the 20th century’s greatest figures within the visual arts. He strived to cultivate shape and colour and sought to simplify the artistic idioms and challenge the common notions of colour harmonies. Matisse found that his art was consistent with the harmonies in jazz. That is why the book was titled ”Jazz”.
In 1948 Matisse started working on the decoration of the Dominican nuns’ chapel in Vence, which was inaugurated in 1951. This was the last major work that he completed before his death in 1954.
Henri Matisse, 1933. Photo: Carl Van Vechten