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Henri Matisse's Artwork: Use of Shapes

Info: 1015 words (4 pages) Essay
Published: 10th May 2021 in Arts

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“My choice of colors does not rest on any scientific theory; it is based on observation, on sensitivity, on felt experience.” (Henri Matisse). Matisse had a unique path to becoming an artist as someone that started out in law school, and I feel like this uniqueness stuck with him throughout his career and is apparent in his artwork whether it be with color, balance, or shape. Because of Matisse’s working background, His ability to combine a vibrant color palette in a way that catches your eye without appearing to try to be flashy, and his clean and crisp sense of structure and design in the cut outs created in his later years like The Sheaf, it is evident color and shape have played critical roles in expression through Matisse’s artwork in the 20th century. Henri Mattise used these elements along with balance to become a household name and one of the greatest artists of his era.

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Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse was born on December 31, 1869 and grew up in the small town of Bohain-en-Vermandois, France. As a young man, Matisse worked as a legal clerk and eventually studied for a law degree from 1887 to 1889. Matisse began painting for the first time when he was bedridden with appendicitis. Not long after, when he started working in a law office in Saint-Quentin, he began taking a drawing class in the mornings before he went to work, and the rest became history. Shortly after he started taking this drawing class Matisse moved to Paris for artistic training in the year 1891. Here he learned from famous, older artists as he attended prestigious schools such as the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts. From the 1920s until his death, Matisse spent much time in Nice, France, painting local scenes utilizing color and line which were what dominated his work in his younger years. In his old age, he was commissioned to design the decoration of the small Chapel of Saint-Marie du Rosaire which he completed between 1947 and 1951. Often bedridden during his last years, he kept himself busy with decoupage, where he created works of brilliantly colored paper cutouts arranged casually on backdrops. His collages were eloquently designed due to his background in painting before his later years where he was unable to paint. This is also when Mattise implemented more shape into his work. Matisse died in Nice, France on November 3, 1954 and unlike most artists, he was a well-known artist across the world during his lifetime.

The Sheaf is one of the cut-outs Matisse made in the months shortly before his passing in 1953. This work conveys a sense of familiarity by using shapes that are comparable to those of leaves off a tree while making use of a vast array of colors. These shapes were carefully organized on a white sheet of paper after much trial and error as Matisse would take his cut-outs and spend hours upon hours organizing and rearranging them until satisfied with a result. What Matisse has done here, even in a somewhat simple composition, is use space to portray the illusion of depth while using the two-dimensional medium of paper. He does so by carefully choosing colors that make the composition pop. The most apparent way that shape is manipulated in this arrangement is by Matisse’s decision to make each shape resemble one another, but not copy another is what makes this artwork feel balanced and unique. I personally believe these silhouettes are exemplary of Matisse’s simplistic cut out style in which he utilized in his later years.

“What I dream of is an art of balance, purity, and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter... a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue. ”- Henri Matisse. Henri Matisse was a passionate believer in the importance of balance in art and you see a phenomenal example of this in The Sheaf. Mattise once said “Fit the parts together, one into the other, and build your figure like a carpenter builds a house. Everything must be constructed, composed of parts that make a whole... (Henri Matisse)” and I believe this awareness of the importance of balance is why the way the colorful shapes are arranged on their simplistic white background in The Sheaf feels very balanced and is soothing to the eye. The shapes are evenly spaced physically, but Matisse also takes advantage of color to create balance in this composition. Personally, I believe it’s the way Matisse sporadically combines warm and cool colors while still achieving a sense of structure in this work paired with the physical balance within The Sheaf is what creates such an inviting sense of balance and appeal to this work.

In conclusion, it’s not Matisse’s background of thinking outside the box, His ability to combine vibrant colors in a way that catches your eye without seemingly trying to be flashy, or his clean sense of structure and design in the cut outs created in his later years like The Sheaf that puts Henri Matisse in the mix as one of the most popular artists of all time, but more so a combination of all these factors that have made him a household name. Matisse had a unique path to becoming an artist as someone that started out in law school, and I feel like this uniqueness stuck with him throughout his career and is evident in his artwork whether it be with color, balance, or shape.

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