December 31 – Happy Birthday, Henri Matisse

Posted on December 31, 2015

Was he a Wild Beast?
An artistic rebel?

Or was he someone who upheld tradition?

I guess that French artist Henri Matisse was both!

There was an entire group of artists in the early 1900s who were called les Fauves, the Wild Beasts. They used strong colors rather than sticking with realistic colors as they created their paintings. Also, their works were painterly, because these artists allowed visible brushstrokes and impulsive daubs of color rather than a more careful, smooth application of color meant to create accurate shading.

Henri Matisse was considered the leader of les Fauves!

Fauvism only lasted a few years as an art movement, but Matisse create art works – prints and sculptures as well as paintings – for more than half a century. By the 1920s, Matisse was being hailed as someone who was upholding the classical tradition in French painting.

How and why?

Henri Matisse was born on this date in 1869. When he was 20, something bad happened: Matisse had an attack of appendicitis. I'm not sure if he had an operation or no, but I read that it took Matisse a while to recover.

Then something good happened: Matisse's mom brought him art supplies while he was still convalescing from the illness.

Then something REALLY good happened: As he painted, Matisse discovered a “kind of paradise” (his words).

Even though he had studied law and worked as a court administrator, Matisse now wanted to become an artist. He went to Paris to study art....

And that's when something else, something kind of bad, happened: Matisse's father told him how deeply disappointed he was in his son's choice of art over law.

I'm not sure if Matisse's dad just didn't value art, or if he worried that his son would always be the stereotypical “starving artist,” or what – but if Matisse had knuckled under to his dad's hopes and dreams for him, I'm pretty sure he would never have become well known, and we wouldn't be talking about him today. Luckily, Matisse followed his passion, made his imprint on the world, and lived a long, interesting life.

By the way...

Matisse chose to stay in France when it was occupied by Nazis during World War II, because he felt that leaving France would be deserting it. (His son had arranged for him to flee to Brazil.) Matisse apparently didn't actively work with the Resistance, his son Pierre, his estranged wife Amelie, and his daughter Marguerite all did.

Pierre helped Jewish and anti-Nazi artists escape occupied France and enter the United States, and he held an exhibit in New York City called “Artists in Exile.” (According to Wikipedia, that exhibit became legendary.) 

Amelie was a typist for the French Underground. She was jailed by the Nazis for six months!
Matisse's daughter, Marguerite
And Marguerite was a true hero. She worked for the Resistance during the war, but then she was captured, tortured almost to death by the Gestapo, and sentenced to a concentration camp. When the Allies made an air strike on Germany, the train Marguerite was on, bound for the concentration camp, was halted; she managed to escape the train and survived in the woods. Finally, she was rescued by fellow resisters.

Wow! That's quite a story!

A coincidence...

As I read about Henri Matisse, I noticed that he died the year I was born.

Then I read about his daughter, and I noticed that SHE died the year my oldest daughter was born.

They both lived long lives – Henri died at age 84, and his daughter died at age 87.

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