Five works by Henri Matisse you need to know

Matisse's famous canvas is the guiding thread of an exhibition at MoMA, discover this and five other important works by the artist

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

L'atelier rouge (The Red Studio), Henri Matisse, 1911

Until then The Red Studio (The red studio), by the French artist Henri Matisse, is the guiding thread of the homonymous show on display at the MoMA, in New York. On the canvas, painted in 1908, Matisse portrayed his own studio with a peculiar distribution of objects and finished or ongoing works. The exhibition, which will be on display until September 11 of this year, also brings together other works by the artist that dialogue with the theme canvas, in addition to the objects that were portrayed in it: six paintings, three sculptures and one ceramic. 

Matisse, the genius of Fauvism 

Henri Matisse is undoubtedly one of the greatest names in 20th century art. Born in 1869 in a small French commune called Le Cateau-Cambrésis, Matisse began painting at the age of 20, discovering what he would later call “a kind of paradise”. In his first works, he began to explore colors and their infinite possibilities. inspired by the works of post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne. He also arrived, at the end of the 1890s, to paint using the pointillism, technique characteristic of the neo-impressionist period which consists of the juxtaposition of small dots of paint of different colors that produced a surprising effect from a distance.  

But, in the early 1900s, more than a decade into his career, Matisse already showed the first traces of a movement that would be unmistakable in the future and that would change the course of Art History. In the autumn salon of 1905, he exhibited, for the first time, the canvas woman with hat, painted that same year. Louis Vauxcelles, renowned art critic of the time, wove a fervent text of repudiation of the works that had been presented on the occasion, among which was Matisse's painting. To qualify what Vauxcelles thought was horrible, he used the French word “fauves”, which means “wild beasts” in Portuguese and those responsible for the detestable works could not have been more pleased. 

Avant-garde artists were rebels by nature. Going against the prevailing impressionist canon at the time, innovating techniques, shocking the public and recreating the art scene was, for them, a dream come true. Following the criticism, the artists themselves began to call themselves “Fauvists” and “Fauvism”, one of the most acclaimed artistic vanguards of the 20th century, had just been born. In Fauvism, the investigation of colors and their capabilities was the absolute priority, for the Fauvists color was form, modeling and expression of feeling. In addition to Henri Matisse, the most important artists of the movement are Raoul Dufy, André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck.

ARTEQUEACONTECE selected the five most important paintings of Henri Matisse's career. Check out what they are!

Woman with Hat, 1905 – The most controversial

Femme au chapeau (Mulher com chapéu), 1905
femme au chapeau (Woman with hat), 1905

This was the canvas shown at the Autumn Salon in 1905, which was among the works considered horrible by the critic Louis Vauxcelles and many other spectators. At vibrant colors used by Matisse in an unconventional way shocked the public and ended up becoming the hallmark of the Fauvist movement.

The Joy of Living, 1906 – The most acclaimed

Le bonheur de vivre (A alegria de viver), 1906
Le bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Living), 1906

This monumental canvas was first exhibited at the 1906 Salon des Independants. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, by Pablo Picasso, this canvas is considered one of the pillars of modernism. It is believed that this canvas was a response of sorts to the hostility his work had received at the Autumn Salon a year earlier. But this work was also the target of fierce criticism when it was exhibited. Even Paul Signac, who supported the artist's early productions and was, for Matisse, an early career inspiration, was not without criticism. However, in the 1920s this work was already considered one of the artist's most important works and is, until today, one of the most acclaimed. It belongs to the collection of Barnes Foundation, in Philadelphia, USA.

Harmony in Red, 1908 – The masterpiece

Le Dessert: harmonie en rouge (Harmonia em vermelho), 1908
Le Dessert: harmonie en rouge (Harmony in Red), 1908

For many Matisse scholars and enthusiasts, this is his masterpiece. The painting was commissioned by Sergey Shchukin, a Russian art collector, to decorate a dining room. Matisse, as ordered, painted the canvas in blue, but did not like the result and reproduced the work in red. With this canvas, the artist began a period of his production marked by experiments and investigations with the color red, which includes the work The Red Studio (cited at the beginning of this article). It is part of the museum's permanent collection. Hermitage, in Russia.

Dance, 1910 – The most famous

Danse (Dança), 1910 - A mais famosa
dance (Dance), 1910 – The most famous

This is, without a doubt, the first canvas that comes to mind when we think of Matisse. It is his most famous work – and one of the most complex as well. Painted in 1910, it brings together different key elements from the artist's production. Here the expression of colors and the absence of depth are evident, but this canvas also has the primitivist theme, so explored by Paul Gauguin and, later, by Pablo Picasso.

The scene has two versions, the Dance I, which is at MoMA, in New York, was a preliminary study for the future conception of this work that is shown above, the Dance II, also commissioned by Sergey Shchukin. The work hung in his house until the nationalization of private works of art, which occurred due to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Today, Dance II it is also part of the Hermitage collection.

Katia in the Yellow Shirt, 1951 – The Last

Katia à la chemise jaune Katia de camisa amarela, 1951
Katia à la chemise jaune (Katia in the yellow shirt), 1951

Katie in the yellow shirt it was the last canvas painted by Henri Matisse, in 1951. The woman portrayed in the work is the Swiss Carmen Leschennes, introduced to Matisse by Lydia Delectorskaya, assistant and Russian model of the painter. Katia, as Matisse decided to call Carmen because he thought the name suited her best, inspired different works produced by the artist between 1950 and 1952. His last canvas now belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon, France.

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