Description of Henri Matisse's Artwork

by Steven J. Miller

Born in 1869, Henri Matisse painted in a range of styles both traditional and revolutionary. His use of bold color and sculptural shapes helped define the plastic arts movement, which was a term used in the early 20th century to encapsulate the way art gives shape to objects. Later in life, he became known as a preserver of classical French painting. His works changed drastically through the years, and he is known for his dramatic use of color and for his ability to depict real life imagery through art. He continued working as an artist until his death in 1954.

Early Work

His early paintings use natural colors to render everyday items such as fruit and ordinary household objects. The colors he used in this period were fairly realistic and depicted the items in natural light. They were not exact paintings, as the objects were somewhat skewed and often lacked shadows. In this period, Matisse created a selection of paintings that bordered on the surreal. One famous painting from this period is "Blue Pot and Lemon," painted in 1897. It depicts a blue pot, lemons and various common household items sitting on a shelf.


Along with André Derain, Matisse was the leader of "les Fauves" or "wild beasts" from 1900 to 1910. The movement was known as Fauvism, and encouraged a style of painting that emphasized unusual and vivid colors over more realistic colors and natural lighting. One painting characteristic of Fauvism was Matisse's "Woman with Hat," which used bright oranges interspersed with shades of green and purple to depict a lady of the era. Camille Mauclair and other critics of the time considered the new style vulgar and the artists beastly, hence the name of the movement.

Middle Work

In 1904, Matisse befriended Pablo Picasso and his color palette changed from being one of highly chromatic colors to one of more realistic colors. One painting from this time was his "The Dessert: Harmony in Red" from 1908. This picture uses red as the primary element and blends a red tablecloth on a table that a woman is sitting at with the red background of the room. This enables the focus to remain on the woman, while still creating a vivid backdrop. Unlike those of his contemporaries, Matisse's paintings of this period included elaborate background ornamentation.

Later Work

From about 1917 on, Matisse painted in a more calm and simple style. His keen eye for color became honed, and he began to use dynamic contrast to make elements pop out of his paintings. In a series entitled "Blue Nudes," Matisse created paintings that show sharp definitions between blue and various white and off-white backdrops. These paintings are a defining characteristic of his final style and show great artistry with crisp, distinct lines that he referred to as "painting with scissors."


About the Author

Steven Miller graduated with a master's degree in 2010. He writes for several companies including Lowe's and IBM. He also works with local schools to create community gardens and learn environmentally responsible gardening. An avid gardener for 15 years, his experience includes organic gardening, ornamental plants and do-it-yourself home projects.

Photo Credits

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