On December 31, 1869, Henri Emile Matisse entered into a world and a family with many plans for him. Matisse spent his childhood and school days in Bohain France and later in Ste. Quentin, where he studied Latin and Greek until the year 1887. The path chosen by Matisse's parents for him, was one that led to a career in one of the professions and so, the young man was sent to Paris to study law.
In the year 1888, after studying one year in Paris (never once incidentally visiting an art gallery or even the annual Salon) Matisse returned to Ste. Quentin where he found himself a job as a lawyer's clerk. A slight interest in art became somewhat evident as Matisse enrolled himself in a night school drawing class, while working during the day as a clerk. However, this interest didn't lead much of anywhere. Matisse was quite content to live his life day by day as a law clerk and probably would have continued to do so for many years had it not been for an illness that struck him in his twenty-first year.
Somewhat of a "blessing in disguise", Matisse fell ill with appendicitis in the year 1890. During his long convalescence from the illness, his mother tried to amuse him with a box of paints, a set of brushes and a how-to-paint book. These art supplies made Matisse feel free for the first time in his life.
In 1891, much against the wishes of his father, a fully recovered Matisse returned to Paris - this time - to study art.
From Painting to Sculpture
Why Choose Sculpture?
Simply put, for Henri Matisse, sculpture was a medium in which he could explore the human figure, with results much more powerful than what was possible within the confined spaces of a framed canvas. So, in 1898 Matisse enrolled himself in evening classes at the Ecole d'art Municipale, where he worked and completed his first sculpture - a copy of Antoine Louis Bayre's "Jaguar Devouring a Hare". The work took two years to complete and was beautiful and correct in its form. Matisse dissected a cat so as the study the complete anatomy and translate it to the jaguar form. The piece however did not shout "Matisse" - it was a copy - that's all. It wasn't until 1903 when Matisse complete his sculpture The Slave (or The Serf), that his own voice began to ring out of the work.
It is rather necessary to remember that when Matisse began sculpting, it was during a time when artists in general were becoming more and more interested in their abilities to effectively express feeling, rather that anatomically correct forms. It seems logical then that Matisse's sculpture would reflect the ideas of the time.
|Matisse - the Back Series|
Photo: Andrea Mulder-Slater
Location: Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington DC
|Matisse - Back III|