© Musée Matisse vue extérieure | Photo François FERNANDEZ

Henri Matisse, the Art of Simplicity

The undisputed master of modern art and leader of the Fauvism movement with a talent for simplified painting to the extreme, Henri Matisse has handed down an artistic legacy intrinsically bound to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean, and in particular that of Nice and the Côte d’Azur.

Henri Matisse

Shapes, Colours and Mediterranean Influences

A major figure of modern art in the second half of the 20th century, Henri Matisse (1869-1954) made the “simplification of painting” the founding principle of his oeuvre. In 1905, his canvasses were shown alongside those of his friend Derain in an exhibition that sparked outrage: the colours used were considered far too intense. At the time, a shocked and uninspired art critic referred to the artists as “wild animals” (fauves). Matisse and Derain retaliated by adopting the label as their own, and the Fauvism movement was born. In the words of Matisse: “The idea at the time was to build the painting using coloured surfaces, and seek intense colours. Light isn’t suppressed, but rather expressed through a harmony of intensely colourful surfaces”. In the 1900s and 1910s, Matisse discovered Andalusia, Morocco and Algeria. His travels left a lasting mark on his easily-recognizable works, with their pure, flat forms, sometimes outlined in black.

Discovering Matisse

Musée Matisse in Nice

One of the rare painters to achieve fame during his lifetime, Henri Matisse was shown in Moscow, Berlin, Munich, London and New York in the 1910s. In 1915, he set down his bags in Nice, the capital of the French Riviera. The Riviera atmosphere inspired him and his works became more evocative: this was the era of landscapes and interior scenes. Located just a few metres from the master’s studio, the Musée Matisse, entirely dedicated to the artist, opened its doors in 1963. Its world-unique collection forms an exceptional testimonial and brings together numerous works and objects, virtually all from Matisse’s studio, offering visitors an intimate glimpse into his creative world. Among the museum’s iconic works you’ll find “A Storm in Nice”, “Still Life with Pomegranates”, “Blue Nude IV” and “Fruit and Flowers”, a monumental creation measuring over 8 metres in length. The Musée Matisse is a genuine doorway to a dreamworld… As art critic Gaëtan Picon so aptly put it at the museum’s inauguration: “In the world of modern art, Henri Matisse is virtually the only artist who chooses to praise the world and sing a song of human happiness. (…) He strives to capture the essence of reality, not its avatars”.

Musée de Vence

Henri Matisse maintained close ties with Vence, where he set up home in 1943. Don’t miss a visit to the magnificent Chapelle du Rosaire adorned with stained glass windows and wall tiles by Matisse; the artist considered this to be his most successful work. In 2018, the Musée de Vence opened a permanent area dedicated to Henri Matisse where you’ll also find works relating to the Chapelle du Rosaire, including ceiling roses, charcoal drawings, lithographs and drawing boards from his “Jazz” book.

Fondation Maeght & Musée Cantini

Our voyage in the footsteps of Henri Matisse continues just down the road at the Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, where you’ll find portraits of Marguerite Maeght painted by Matisse. A lifelong friendship was born between Matisse and the two patrons of the arts during the sittings for the painting. Last stop on your list: the Musée Cantini in Marseille, harbouring Henri Matisse’s flagship work “Académie d’homme” (1901). Shortly before painting it, he acquired “The Bathers” by Paul Cézanne, considered by Matisse as his modern art mentor. “The Bathers” was a major influence for “Académie d’homme”, which features the same very-assertive colour contrasts that lend the canvas its unique relief. A prelude to Fauvism …

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