Henri Matisse was born in France on Dec. 31, 1869. He trained to be a lawyer, but while recovering from an illness, he began to paint and enjoyed it so much that soon gave up his law career.

Color was very important to Matisse, whether he was painting canvases or making decoupages of cut paper. He was always interested in color for it’s own expressive purposes. Soon he had a following of enthusiastic young artists, called the Fauves (Wild Beasts) because their colors were often garish and had no relation to the way things really looked.

Often regarded as the most important French painter of the 20th century and the leader of the Fauvist movement around 1900. Matisse's Fauvist years were superseded by an experimental period, as he abandoned three-dimensional effects in favor of dramatically simplified areas of pure color, flat shape, and strong pattern.

When his health and eyesight faded, Matisse invented decoupage (created by cutting and pasting pieces of painted paper), so that he could continue to express himself through a visual art. Painting required too much strength and energy—decoupage allowed him to work tactilely. Matisse cut out different shapes from paper, which his assistants had painted under his direction. As he said, he was “drawing with his scissors.” He would cut many shapes—changing and rearranging the abstract designs of leaves, fruits, figures, sea life and flowers before pasting them down in the final arrangement. He wrote, “The cut-out is what I have found to be the simplest and most direct way of expressing myself.”

The last years of his life were spend in southern France, mainly working on the wonderful decoupage for which he is so well-known. He died in 1954 at the age of eighty-five.

BEAST OF THE SEA - This decoupage artwork is filled with brilliant tropical colors and marine shapes. Matisse shows us the organization of tropcial sea life by pasting the marine cut-outs on to a complicated geometric arrangement of colored shapes that stack up to form two columns that represent the depths of the ocean. Creatures that feed from the bottom of the ocean floor are at the base of each column—coral and shellfish on the left and eels and snails on the right. Higher up we see fish swimming, including the spiky little black shapes that represent predators in an abstract, styled way. The long black curving shape on the right suggests a seahorse.

Though the forms have been simplified, the feeling of underwater life is clear and strong. The bold colors and rhythmical arrangements of floating, flowing shapes make a rich and lovely pattern.


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