Illustrated Chronology

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December 31, 1869 Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse is born in the cottage of his maternal grandmother in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France. He was raised in Bohain-en-Vermandois, an industrial textile center. Henri hates the northern winters.

His father, Émile Hippolyte Matisse, was a grain merchant whose family were weavers. His mother, named Anna Heloise Gerard, was a daughter of a long line of well-to-do tanners. She made hats and painted china. The young Matisse is a pensive child penchant to observe pigeons, a habit which he would reproduce in his later years.

1887 Once Matisse finishes school, his father Émile, a much more practical man, arranges for his son to obtain a clerking position at a law office. Matisse consideres law as tedious, however he passes the bar in 1888 with distinction.

He remains bed-ridden for two years attack after an attack of of appendicitis. Soon after he abandons his studies to dedicate himself to painting after mother buys him art supplies during the period of convalescence. She was the first to advises her son not to adhere to the “rules” of art, but rather listen to his emotions. Matisse said later, “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”

1891 Matisse returned to Paris to study art at the Académie Julian and studies with the arch-academician William-Adolphe Bouguereau and the Symbolist Gustave Moreau. Matisse's own early style is a conventional form of naturalism. He makes numerous copies after the old masters but he also studies contemporary art, especially that of the impressionists. He begins to experiment, earning a reputation as the rebellious member of his studio classes.

1894 He has a daughter, Marguerite, with the model Caroline Joblau. Marguerite would often served as a model for Matisse in coming years.

1898 Matisse marries Amélie Noellie Parayre when he is twenty-eight. She devotes herself to her husband and urges him to pursue his artistic inclination. During the lean years she hires out as a hatmaker to help make ends meet. The marriage to Amélie also gives Matisse the opportunity to spend winters along the Mediterranean where he describes everything around him as “colour and light”.

Notwistanding the affection that unites them, Matisse tells his wife : “I love you dearly, mademoiselle; but I shall always love painting more.” The couple raises Marguerite. Two sons are born, Jean (born 1899) and Pierre (born 1900). Due to financial difficulties Mastisse lives temporarily with his parents. Amélie's parents were ruined in a spectacular scandal, as the unsuspecting employees of a woman whose financial empire was based on fraud. The family was supported through the sale of all the painter's still lives to a dealer who paid 400 francs apiece for them.

1896 Matisse exhibits 5 paintings in the salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. The state buys two of his compositions. His work shows the influence of the post-Impressionists Paul Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Paul Signac but he is struck by Japanese art as well.

1900 Matisse earns some money painting a frieze for the World Fair at the Grand Palais in Paris. He traveles widely in the early 1900s when tourism was still a new idea. Brought on by railroad, steamships, and other forms of transportation that appeared during the industrial revolution, travel became a popular pursuit. As a cultured tourist, he developes his art with regular doses of travel.

1901 Matisse exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris and meets another future leader of the Fauve movement, Maurice de Vlaminck.

1904 Matisse's first solo exhibit in Galerie Vollard.

1905 Matisse and a group of artists now known as "Fauves" (Wild Ones) exhibit their paintings together in a room at the Salon d'Automne. One of his paintings is singled out for attacks. Like many avant-garde artists in Paris, Matisse is receptive to a broad range of influences. He is one of the first painters to take an interest in “primitive” art. Matisse abandoned the palette of the Impressionists and established his characteristic style, with its flat, brilliant color and fluid line. By 1905 he had produced some of the boldest color images ever created, including a striking picture of his wife, Green Stripe (Madame Matisse)

1905 While he is regarded as a leader of radicalism in the arts, Matisse begins to gain the approval of a number of influential critics and collectors. Together with Derain, Marquet, Vlaminck and Roauault, Matisse sparks off controversy. This event has a very positive effect on Matisse, who is severly demoralized by the poor reception of his work.

In these years he begins a lasting relationship with Leo, Gertrude, Sarah e Michael Stein from New York. The relationship with the Steins has a beneficial effect on the artist's life and work. Gertrude and Leo Stein acquire Woman with a Hat These collectors purchase a number of compositions and introduce his art to America.

1906 During a gathering at the house of Gertrude Stein, Matisse meets Pablo Picassowho is 12 years younger than him. The two become life-long friends as well as rivals and are often compared to one another. One key difference between them is that Matisse draws and paints from nature, while Picasso is much more inclined to work from imagination.

He also meets meets the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

From 1906 -1917 Matisse lives in Paris. He establishes his home, studio, and school at Hôtel Biron. Among his neighbors is sculptor Auguste Rodin, writer Jean Cocteau, and dancer Isadora Duncan. Although intellectually sophisticated, Matisse always emphasizes the importance of instinct and intuition in the production of a work of art.

1908 Stieglitz organizes the first exhibition of Matisse in New York at his own gallery..

Matisse begins a long association with the Russian art collector Sergei Shchukin.

1909 He creates one of his major works, La Danse, especially for Shchukin as part of a two-work commision. The other work is Music. He paints an second version of La Danse which is presently in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

1910 Matisse visits Munich to explore exhibitions of Oriental art.

1911 Matisse arrives in Moscow on October 23. The next day, he visites the Tretyakov Gallery and asks to be shown their collection of Russian icons. Matisse is delighted by the icons and declares that to see them was more than worth the arduous trip. He spends much of his time in Moscow frantically visiting monasteries, churches, convents, and collections of sacred images.

1912-1913 He spends the winters of 1912 and 1913 in Morocco perfecting his color scheme under Mediterranean sun. By that time Matisse along with Picasso is seen as the leading new painter in Paris.

1914-1918 Matisses divides his time between Collioure, Paris and Nice

1917 Matisse relocates to Cimiez and stays principally at Hotel Regina,on the French Riviera, a suburb of the city of Nice.

1920s From the early 1920s until 1939, Matisse divides his time primarily between the south of France and Paris. He designs the stage sets and costumes for S. Diaghilev’s ballet The Nightingale (to Stravinsky’s music) and in 1939 for Léonide Massine’s ballet Rouge et Noir (to the music of Shostakovich’s first Symphony). During these years he begins a long series of "Odalische".

Schukin dies but Matisse is able to initiate important realtionsihips with two American art collectors: Albert Barnes and his sister Etta and Claribel Cone from Baltimore . Both are fiends of Gertrude Stein.

Matisse spends much time in the south of France, particularly Nice, painting local scenes with a thin, fluid application of bright color.

1925 Matisse is made chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and in 1927 he received the first prize at the Carnegie International Exhibition at Pittsburgh.

1930 A new vigor and bolder simplification appear in his work. The American art collector Barnes convinced him to produce a large mural for the Barnes Foundation, The Dance II, which was completed in 1932. The Foundation acquires several dozen other Matisse paintings. He also makes a trip to Tahiti, then visited New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.

1935 Matisse meets the Lydia Delectorskaya, and by her own account she could hardly have been more different from the dark-eyed, black-haired, olive-skinned southern types Matisse had preferred until then. Lydia, who came from Siberia, had long golden hair, blue eyes, white skin and finely cut features: "the looks of an ice princess," as Matisse said himself. Lydia survives precariously on nothing but her pride, her resourcefulness and her unbudgeable will. Lydia had intrdouced herself in the Matisse household for temporary work, first as a studio assistant, then as a domestic, with Matisse and his wife. It was not for another three years that the painter asked her to sit for him.

1939 He and his wife of 41 years separated in 1939.

1941 Matisse is diagnosed with cancer and, following surgery, he begins to using a wheelchair. Until his death he is cared for by Lydia. Matisse, thoroughly unpolitical, is shocked when he discovers that his daughter Marguerite, who had been active in the Résistance during the war, was tortured and imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp.

Friends try to persuade the aging artist to leave France, but Matisse says, "If all the talented people left France, the country would be much poorer. I began an artist's life very poor, and I am not afraid to be poor again. . . . Art has its value; it is a search after truth and truth is all that counts."

1941-1942 While recuperating from two major operations, Matisse concentrates on a technique he had devised earlier: papiers découpés (paper cutouts).

1943 Matisse lives in Vence at the villa "Le Reve" until 1948

1947 Matisse writtes and illustrates Jazz; the plates are stencil reproductions of paper cutouts.

1948 After the end of the war Matisse turns anew to monumental compositions. He executes numerous sketches for the stained-glass panel representing St. Dominique in the church at Assy, the interior decoration for the Dominican chapel of Notre-Dame du Rosaire at Vence (1948-51). In the same year a major retrospective of his work is presented at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and then travels to Cleveland, Chicago, and San Francisco.

1951 On June 25, thousands of tourists and natives crowd the small village of Vence in south France to see the Bishop bless what Matisse had called his "masterpiece" - Dominican chapel of Notre-Dame.

1952 Matisse progresses serenely with his decorations for the chapel, drawing his designs with a long charcoal-tipped stick on the walls of his bedroom, later copying them on tiles and transferring them to stained glass. This was his last work, he announces: "My bags are packed."

In 1952 the Musée Matisse is inaugurated at the artist’s birthplace of Le Cateau–Cambrésis. Matisse continues to make large paper cutouts, the last of which was a design for the rose window at Union Church of Pocantico Hills, New York. He dies on November 3, 1954, in Nice.

1952 At 83 he donated 100 of his works - valued at up to $14,000,000 - -to his hometown of Le Cateau.

1954 Matisse dies of a heart attack at the age of 84. He is interred in the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez and a Matisse Museum was opened in the area. At his bedside are his daughter, Mme. Marguerite Duthite; his physician, a nurse and his secretary. Mme. Duthite arrives in Nice from Paris a few days before to visit her father.

Henri Matisse

If my story were ever to be written truthfully from start to finish, it would amaze everyone.

Henri Matisse.


The first painting of Matisse acquired by a public collection was Still Life with Geraniums (1910), exhibited in the Pinakothek der Moderne. Today, a Matisse painting can fetch as much as US $17 million. In 2002, a Matisse sculpture, Reclining Nude I (Dawn), sold for US $9.2 million, a record for a sculpture by the artist.

Matisse's daughter Marguerite often aided Matisse scholars with insights about his working methods and his works. She died in 1982 while compiling a catalog of her father's work.

Matisse's son, Pierre Matisse, (1900-1989) opened an important modern art gallery in New York City during the 1930s. The Pierre Matisse Gallery which was active from 1931 until 1989 represented and exhibited many European artists and a few Americans and Canadians in New York often for the first time. He exhibited Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Dubuffet, André Derain, Yves Tanguy, Le Corbusier, Paul Delvaux, Wilfredo Lam, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Balthus, Leonora Carrington, Zao Wou Ki, Sam Francis, sculptors Theodore Roszak, Raymond Mason and Reg Butler, and several other important artists, including the work of Henri Matisse.

Henri Matisse's grandson, Paul Matisse, is an artist and inventor living in Massachusetts. Matisse's great granddaughter Sophie Matisse is active as an artist in 2008.