Matisse: the modern master of colour & line


The vibrancy and joyful colour of Matisse’s pictures epitomise the French 'joie de vivre', making him one of the best loved masters of modern art. The fluid lines of Matisse’s drawings reflect his classical art training, but in his youth, the use of expressive colour marked him as a rebel. Our Matisse collection reflects his diverse talent and includes abstracts, portraits and still life works as well as rare posters from our Galerie Mourlot collection.

Fauvism: revolutionary colour

From 1905 to 1910, Matisse headed up a French based art movement later described 'les fauves' (wild beasts) by an unconvinced art critic. In paintings of this period, strong colours are used to express emotion with powerful brushwork and simplified shapes.

Around this time Matisse began to travel and study African, Moorish and primitive art. He documented much about the environments in which he lived and painted as they punctuated the different stages of his career. Goldfish, 1911 shows a fish bowl in a colourful courtyard garden in Tangiers and Window at Tangiers reflects the intensity of the hot location, using bold blue colours and highlights of yellow and red.

South of France

In 1917 Matisse relocated to Nice and the intense colours in his work reflect his love of life in the heat of the South of France. His keen interest in textiles is shown in backdrops of exotic decorative patterns. Here, Matisse painted subjects that would recur in his art for the rest of his life, including alluring studies of women and still lifes. 

Despite the strong gaze from the female subject in Woman in a Purple Robe directed towards the viewer, the eye is predominantly drawn to the gloriously contrasting patterns surrounding her. Similarly in Pink Nude, the figure has a simplified, curved form that contrasts with the geometric symmetry of the floor tiles. Matisse loved to bend, test and accentuate artistic conventions.

Abstract cut- outs

Close up of The Snail, £340 framed

From the 1930s onwards, Matisse’s ill health made it harder for him to paint and had to use a wheelchair. He began to cut out paper shapes to create collages so by the late 1940s paper became his primary art material. 

He would quickly cut out coloured paper - the originals still show pencil lines and scissor marks. Although abstract with simplified forms, he created a unique way of depicting the natural world including figures, animals and plants. Many regard the cut-outs as the pinnacle of his career; a culmination of a life exploring glorious colour and form.

In Polynesie, La Mer, 1946 (our silkscreen print which originally used the cut gouache method), paper shapes were pinned to the walls of Matisse's studio-residence, surrounding him with colourful motifs which he would constantly rearrange to his liking.

Line art

Matisse is not only admired for his use of colour, indeed, he was also a great draughtsman. Although he embraced the simplification of form with his abstract work, Matisse also produced a wide range of monochrome paintings and fluid line drawings.

The images fill the paper and the surrounding space is as important to the composition as the line. Matisse once said about The Plain Tree 1951; “the intended space between leaves are as important as the leaves themselves”.

Galerie Mourlot

Quatre Anées de Tapisserie Francaise, 1949, rare poster, £1,700 framed

The Atelier Mourlot worked with seminal artists in the twentieth century to create striking artwork using traditional stone lithography. Matisse collaborated with Mourlot to produce promotional posters for his work and exhibitions. We are proud to offer an exclusive collection of rare Matisse posters from the atelier’s archives, curated in partnership with the Galerie Mourlot in New York. 

Les Lithographies de l’Atelier Mourlot, 1984 is a colour lithographic poster printed for an exhibition of Atelier Mourlot prints in Tokyo at Seibu Department Stores, 1984. Originally appearing on the 1952 Mourlot Centennial Exhibition poster, this design by Matisse was reprinted as a limited edition. He created this colourfully rhythmic composition from cut paper before transferring it to lithographic stones at the studio of Mourlot. 

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