Henri Matisse 1869 to 1950

Taking some time to look at his work today I decided to try and new method of notation.



I am hoping that by making a kind of mind map as I look through the books, I will be able to use this to make a more coherent blog entry  of my thoughts on what I have looked at. I have also discovered the dictation function on my Mac which I didn’t know existed…… this is brilliant and could make writing my blog is much quicker. 

The style of  Henri Matisse, developed and changed over time. Overall, he worked on simplification , and this can be seen very clearly in the painting “The Moroccan Cafe”.



There is only just enough information on this painting for us to see the ethnic culture of the scene, however it is clearly what it is.  Simple shapes for the figures include the white caps/turban head wear. The arches in the background and the border are the other two .Very minimal colour palette.



There is a quote from Mattis which goes… “We work towards serenity through simplification of ideas and of form. The ensemble is the only ideal. Details lessen the purity of the lines and home the emotional intensity we reject them”. 1909.




Matisse dabbled briefly with pointillism and was influenced by Cezanne. This influence  can be seen in the painting “Bathers by a River” the shading of the figures in this painting is very much in the style of Cezanne and the work itself has a collage quality which he will later use in his papercut works.


  • I noticed in some photos he is shown holding his brush at the very tip and photos using a long stick for mark making therefore increasing the distance between hand and surface this is a method of simplifying lines.
  • Human figure shape – in his early school to work fridges anatomically correct in their proportions however as his work progressed his figures became distorted more rounded and/or elongated.
  • Portraits often very simplified and the colours unrealistic.
  • Colours always strong, favouring red and a strong blue and a strong blue/green and a basic  yellow. Colours often flat not blended. Red can be seen in the painting Harmony in Red and The Red Studio and the strong blue in The Conversation and Bather.

Towards the end of his life he created papercut works, ultimatley simplifying work down to flat shapes.

Just for fun I then tried a couple of these myself in my sketchbook. I didnt have the right colours in my paper, but this helped cement my understanding of the shapes he used.  The stars in particular come out quite naturally that shaped if not drawn before cutting.




Sternau, S.A. (1999) Henri Matisse. New York: Bookmart.
Watkins, N. (1993) Matisse. London: Phaidon Press.