Henri Matisse: 1869-1954

Painter, sculptor, printmaker, designer, draughtsman, and writer, Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse was born on December 31, 1869 in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France. Before studying art, Matisse worked as a solicitor’s clerk in Saint-Quentin and took a law degree from 1887 to 1889 in Paris.

Matisse studied drawing at the Ecole Quentin Latour and began painting in the winter of 1889 while recovering from appendicitis. He gave up law to study painting at the Académie Julian in 1891 under painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau and took drawing and perspective courses at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs. Matisse joined the studio of Gustave Moreau in 1892 and passed the entrance examination of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1895. In 1898 he married Amélie Parayre with whom he had two sons.

Matisse’s early works were essentially based on the study of the Old Masters “firmly based on reality, in a restricted tonal palette influenced above all by his copies after Dutch masters and Chardin and by exhibitions he had seen of the work of Jean Baptiste Camille Corot and Edouard Manet.”

Matisse exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1901 and had his first solo show at the Galerie Vollard in 1904.

Matisse, along with André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck  became one of the principal figures of Fauvism, which has its base in Impressionism. “In reviving the study of the nude human figure,  Matisse’s work was partially a reaction against what he perceived as Impressionism’s neglect of this traditional subject.”

Like other avant-garde artists in Paris at the time, Matisse was interested in influences beyond the realist tradition. Between 1904-05, he spent summers painting in the Mediterranean which resulted in his abandonment of the traditional Impressionist palette in favour of what would become his characteristic style of “flat, brilliant colour and fluid line”.

From 1906 – 1910, Matisse became increasingly successful and his art began to be exhibited and published outside of France. Writer and art collector Gertrude Stein, as well as art collectors Etta and Claribel Cone, began acquiring Matisse’s work. During this time, he was also introduced to Picasso with whom he would have an “intermittent rivalry”.

“Matisse’s work during this period falls into three categories: figure compositions, still-lifes and interiors, and portraits. He moved away from the Fauve style and experimented with a new language of the human figure stimulated primarily by Gauguin’s primitivism, but also by Cézanne’s compositions of bathers, by classical decorations, by African tribal sculpture and by the challenge of Picasso.” (MoMA)

Between 1010-1917, Matisse created what many critics say are the best works of his career. Inspired by his travels to Spain, Russia, Morocco, his further response to Cubism was to create larger, more exotic and colourful paintings.

In 1918, Matisse relocated to Nice, France where creatively he focused on the female form, landscapes, interiors, still-lifes of flowers, and light itself. During this period, he maintained a habit of working outdoors but this production did not result in major works.  In 1925, Matisse traveled to  Italy and Sicily after which he painted fewer canvases and seemingly gave himself the “task of resolving in drawings, sculptures, prints and paintings the articulation and balance of mass of the seated and reclining female nude.”

Matisse virtually gave up painting in 1929 to focus on a series of over 200 etchings, drypoints and lithographs. “Drawing was essential to Matisse’s paintings of the later 1930s, as was an expressive distortion of the female form in order to capture the mood or personality of the model, for example by exaggerating the length of her body in languid repose.”

In 1928, Matisse moved to Cimiez, a suburb above Nice. In 1941, surgery for a tumor left him disabled and unable to travel. This led to his  grand interior paintings between 1946 and 1948, the decoration of the Chapelle du Rosaire at Vence from 1948 to 1951, and to his final works – a series of paper cut-outs.

Matisse died of a heart attack on November 3, 1954 at the age of eighty-four. He is buried at the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez, near Nice.

For an in depth biography, visit the MoMA website.

Sources: MoMA, Guggenheim, Wikipedia (images) Olga’s Gallery (images)

Paul Klee: 1879-1940

Head With German Mustache-Paul-Klee-1920Born on December 18, 1879, in Münchenbuchsee, Paul Klee was a German-Swiss painter, draftsman, printmaker, teacher and writer. He is regarded as a major theoretician among modern artists,  a master of humour and mystery, and a major contributor to 20th century art.

Klee was born into a family of musicians and his childhood love of music would remain very important in his life and work. From 1898 to 1901 he studied in Munich under Heinrich Knirr, and then at the Kunstakademie under Franz von Stuck.  In 1901 Klee traveled to Italy with the sculptor Hermann Haller and then settled in Bern in 1902.

A series of his satirical etchings called “The Inventions” were exhibited at the Munich Secession in 1906. That same year Klee married pianist Lily Stumpf and moved to Munich. In 1907, the couple had a son, Felix. For the next five years, Klee worked to define his own style through the manipulation of light and dark in his pen and ink drawings and watercolour wash. He also painted on glass, applying a white line to a blackened surface. During this time Klee paid close attention to Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting and became interested in the work of van Gogh,  Cézanne, and Matisse.

In 1911, Klee met Alexej Jawlensky, Vasily Kandinsky, August Macke, Franz Marc, and other avant-garde figures. He participated in art shows including the second Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) exhibition at Galerie Hans Goltz, Munich, in 1912, and the Erste deutsche Herbstsalon at the Der Sturm Gallery, Berlin, in 1913. Klee shared with Kandinsky and Marc a deep belief in the spiritual nature of artistic activity.  He valued the authentic creative expression found in popular and tribal culture and in the art of children and the insane.

Klee’s main concentration on graphic work changed in 1914 after he spent two weeks in Tunisia with the painters August Macke and Louis Moilliet. He produced a number of stunning watercolours and  colour became central  to his art for the remainder of his life.

During World War I, Klee worked as an accounting clerk in the military and was able to continue drawing and painting at his desk. His work during this period had an Expressionist feel, both in their brightness and in motifs of enchanted gardens and mysterious forests.

In 1918, Klee moved back to Munich and worked extensively in oil for the first time painting intensely coloured, mysterious landscapes. During this time, he also became interested in the theory of art and published his ideas on the nature of graphic art in the ‘Schöpferische Konfession’ in 1920. Klee also became interested in politics and joined the Action Committee of Revolutionary Artists, an association that supported the Bavarian Socialist Republic. Like other artists at the time, Klee had envisioned a more central role for the artist in a socialist community.

In 1920, Klee was appointed to the faculty of the Bauhaus in Weimar where he taught from 1921 to 1926 and in Dessau from 1926 to 1931. During this time Klee developed many unique methods of creating art.  The most well known is the oil transfer drawing which involves tracing a pencil drawing placed over a page coated with black ink or oil, onto a third sheet. That sheet receives the outline of the drawing in black, in addition to random smudges of excess oil from the middle sheet.

During his years in Weimar, Klee achieved international fame. However, his final years at the Dessau Bauhaus were marked by major political problems. In 1931 Klee ended his contract shortly before the Nazis closed the Bauhaus. He began to teach at the Düsseldorf art academy, commuting there from his home in Dessau.

In Düsseldorf Klee developed a divisionist painting technique that was related to Seurat’s pointillist paintings.  These works consisted of  layers of colour applied over a surface in patterns of small spots. His time in Düsseldorf however, was affected by the rise of the Nazis. In 1933 he became a target of a campaign against  Entartete Kunst. The Nazis took control of the academy and in April Klee was dismissed from his post. In December he and his wife left Germany and returned to Berne.

In 1935 Klee developed the first symptoms of scleroderma, a skin disease that he suffered with until his death. Despite his personal and physical challenges, Klee’s final years were some of his most productive times. Several hundred paintings and 1583 drawings were recorded between 1937 and May 1940.  Many of these works depicted the subject of death and his famous painting, “Death and Fire”, is considered his personal requiem.

Paul Klee died in Muralto, Locarno, Switzerland, on June 29, 1940. He was buried at Schosshalde Friedhof, Bern, Switzerland. A museum dedicated to Klee was built in Bern, Switzerland, by Italian architect Renzo Piano. Zentrum Paul Klee opened in June 2005 and holds a collection of about 4,000 work.

For more information, see the source files below.  The MoMA, site has a great in-depth biography including information on his working methods.

Paul Klee on Amazon
Sources: Ciudad de la pintura (images), MoMA, Guggenheim Museum, Wikipedia,

Wassily Kandinsky: 1866-1944

Wassily Kandinsky-WWI

Born on December 16, 1866 in Moscow Russia, Wassily Kandinsky was a painter, printmaker, stage designer, art theorist, and a central artist in the development of 20th century abstract art.

Kandinsky studied economics, ethnography and law in Moscow from 1886 – 1893 and wrote a dissertation on the legality of labourer’s wages. In 1896, Kandinsky decided to become an artist and traveled to Munich, Germany  where he studied at the art school of Anton Ažbe. In 1900 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich under Franz von Stuck.

In Munich, the early 1900’s was a centre for Jugendstil (Art Nouveau), and Kandinsky’s art grew out of this movement as well as Russian art. His early works included figure studies, scenes with knights and riders, romantic fairytale subjects and other  Russian scenes. He worked with tempera and gouache on black backgrounds and later used printmaking techniques including etching and drypoint. Also at this time, Kandinsky began creating small oil sketches using a palette knife on canvas board.

Between 1903 and 1909 he and his companion Gabriele Münter traveled to the Netherlands, Tunisia, Italy, France and throughout Germany.  While in France, Kandinsky stayed in Sèvres, outside Paris, where paintings by Gauguin, les Nabis, Matisse and other Fauvists were exhibiting. He was influenced by these artists and his colours became more vibrant.

Between 1904 and 1908 Kandinsky participated in art exhibitions in Moscow and St Petersburg, the Berlin Secession, and the Salon d’Automne in Paris. He was a co-founder of the Neue künstlervereinigung münchen (Munich New Artist’s Association) in 1909, and exhibited with them at the Moderne Galerie Thannhauser in Munich. Kandinsky had developed a distinctive style of painting and his shift from representational painting towards abstraction, focusing on the synthesis of colour line and form began.

Kandinsky was forced to leave Munich after the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and he and Münter stayed for several months in Switzerland. At the end of 1914 he went back to Russia and in December 1915 he traveled to Stockholm, to meet Münter.  He returned to Russia in 1916 where he met Nina von Andreyevskaya, whom he married in February 1917.

Between 1915 and 1919, Kandinsky produced numerous drawings and watercolours, as well as prints and paintings on glass. At times he returned to a more representational style painting realistic landscapes, views of Moscow, figure paintings, and fairytale scenes. However, his work also included completely abstract ink drawings, and geometric shapes became more prevalent.

Between 1918 and 1921, Kandinsky’s activities as a teacher, writer, administrator and organizer occupied much of his time. He played an active role in Narkompros, where he was director of the theatre and film sections and was an editor of a journal for the publication “IZO”.  He was also head of a studio at Moscow Svomas art school. Kandinsky still found time to produce large, canvases and many watercolours and drawings.

Kandinsky returned to Germany in 1921 and accepted an offer of professorship at the Bauhaus in Weimar. He became master of the wall painting workshop and taught a course on the theory of form. The faculty, which included Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemmer, developed theoretical courses, led workshops and instruction in crafts and sought to reunite all artistic disciplines.

At the Bauhaus, Kandinsky created about three hundred oils and several hundred watercolours. From the beginning, he had systematically recorded his paintings and, after 1922, he catalogued the watercolours as well. He also produced many drawings which often related to his teaching theories.

During the Bauhaus period, Kandinsky used circles, squares, triangles, zigzags, checker-boards and arrows as components of his abstract works. The shapes became just as meaningful as the abstract images of towers, horses, boats and rowers had been in his art in earlier years.

In 1933, the Kandinsky and his wife moved to Paris after the Nazis closed the Bauhaus school.  During this time,  his art included biomorphic forms, the incorporation of sand with pigment, and a new delicacy and brightness in his colour harmonies. He preferred pastels to the primary colours he had used in the 1920s, and he favoured images derived from biology, zoology and embryology.

Between 1934 and 1944 Kandinsky created 144 oil paintings, about 250 watercolours, and several hundred drawings. His work during this time revealed his personal response to prevailing artistic fashions – the free, organic shapes of Surrealism and the geometric abstraction of Art concret and Abstraction–Création on the other.

Kandinsky became a French citizen shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. He continued working during the period of German occupation and died on December 13, 1944 at Neuilly-sur-Seine.

For a more in-depth biography, visit the source links below. The  MoMA site has an extensive biography including information about his writings.

Sources: Pintura (images), MoMA, Wikipedia,

Related books from Amazon: Wassily Kandinsky

Friedensreich Hundertwasser: 1928-2000

Friendensreich-Hundertwasser 30-Tage Fax-BildBorn Friedrich Stowasser on December 15, 1928 in Vienna, Austria, Friedensreich Hundertwasser was one of the best known Austrian painters and architects of the 20th century.

Hundertwasser studied briefly at the Montessori school in Vienna and in 1948 he studied 19th century watercolour landscapes at the Fine Art Academy. He was influenced by the art of the Vienna Seccesion, the Austrian figurative painter Egon Schiele, and Gustav Klimt.

In 1949 Hundertwasser traveled to Italy and met the French artist René Brô, with whom he later painted murals in Paris. During this time his work became more abstract but still contained symbolic figurative elements. Hundertwasser had his first solo exhibition in 1952 at the Art Club in Vienna.

In 1953 Hundertwasser’s spiral motif began to appear in his work and was a reference to the creation of life.  This motif became a constant element in his paintings, which included a combination of contrasting colors and vibrant pigments. Hundertwasser developed his “transautomatism” theory in 1953 which focused on the innate creativity of the viewer.

It wasn’t until the 1950’s that Hundertwasser began focusing on architecture.  This began with manifestos, essays and demonstrations. In his view, the welfare of human beings depended on the style of architecture in which their houses were built.  He believed that “architecture would be the people’s third skin and that everybody must be enabled to design this skin as he likes, just as he may design his first (his natural skin) and his second skin (his clothes).”

In 1958, Hundertwasser released his treatise against rationalism in architecture titled “Verschimmelungmanifest”. In the 1960s he traveled to Europe and Asia and began producing architectural models for ecological structures. He also started refurbishing and decorating public and private buildings. He successfully took part in the Tokyo International Art Exhibition in 1960, and the following year he showed at the Venice Biennale.

Hundertwasser became interested in graphics during the 1970s and designed the poster for the 1971 Monaco Olympics.  Hundertwasser also created flags, stamps, coins, and posters. His most famous flag is the Koru Flag. Along with designing postage stamps for the Austrian Post Office, he also created stamps for the Cape Verde islands, and for the United Nations postal administration in Geneva for the 35th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In 1973 he published a portfolio of woodcuts by various Japanese artists who had used his paintings as inspiration. In 1972 he published a manifesto on “the right to a window space” and in 1978 the Manifesto of Peace. Both reflected the artist’s ideology about searching for harmony between man and nature.

In 1998 the Institue Mathildenhöhe of Darmstadt held a retrospective of Hundertwasser’s work. The following year he moved to New Zealand and continued to work on architectural projects. In 1999 Hundertwasser started his last project named Die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg. He never finished this project although the building was constructed a few years later in Magdeburg, Germany, and opened on October 3, 2005.

Friedensreich Hundertwasser died of a heart attack while on board the Queen Elizabeth II on February 19, 2000. For more complete biographical information, see the source links below.

Related Books From Amazon
Sources: The Green Citadel of Madgeburg, Wikipedia, Hundertwasser.com, Peggy Guggenheim Collection

William Blake: 1757-1827

Nebuchadnezzar-William BlakeBorn on November 28, 1757, William Blake is ranked among the greatest English poets and one of the most original visual artists of the Romantic era. The son of a working-class family, Blake studied art as a boy at the drawing academy of Henry Pars.  In 1772, he began an apprenticeship with the commercial engraver James Basire and 1779 entered the Royal Academy Schools as an engraver.

Blake married Catherine Boucher in 1782 who later became his studio assistant.  The couple had no children. In 1784 Blake set up his own print shop and made his living for much of his life as a reproductive engraver.  In 1788 he developed a method of etching in relief that enabled him to combine illustrations and text on the same page and to print them himself.

Blake described his technique as “fresco.” Using oil and tempera paints mixed with chalks, Blake painted the design onto a flat surface (a copperplate or piece of millboard), from which he pulled the prints by pressing a sheet of paper against the damp paint. He completed the designs in ink and watercolor, making each impression unique.

Blake bound and sold his own volumes, including Songs of Innocence of 1788 and its sequel, Songs of Experience of 1794.  Many of his large independent color prints, or monotypes, were created in 1795. From 1795 to 1797 he produced over five hundred watercolors for an edition of Edward Young’s Night Thoughts, of which only one volume was published.

For Blake, art was visionary, not intellectual. He believed that the arts offered insights into the metaphysical world and could potentially redeem a humanity that had fallen into materialism and doubt.

Blake’s most important patron and closest friend was Thomas Butts, a prosperous civil servant. Butts appears to have purchased most of Blake’s output up until about 1810 including a commission of 50 tempera paintings, 80 watercolours, all of a biblical nature.

In 1800, Blake moved to Felpham, near Chichester, at the invitation of the poet William Hayley, who offered him employment for three years. It was here that Blake regained a spiritual calm and was profoundly affected by the study of Milton. He returned to London in 1804 and began “Jerusalem”, a project he worked on until his death.

In 1818, Blake was introduced to his second major patron John Linnell. Linnell commissioned works including the engravings to the Book of Job (1823-1826), and a set of illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy (1824-1827). He made regular payments to Blake until his death. Despite Linnell’s support, Blake had considerable financial problems during his later years and in 1821 was obliged to sell his entire collection of prints. In 1822, at Linnell’s insistence, he received a grant from the Royal Academy.

William Blake died of gallstones at his home in London on August 12, 1827. Largely unrecognized during his lifetime, he is now considered one of the most important figures in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age.

For a complete biography, see the sources links below.

Sources: Metropolitan Museum of Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, National Gallery of Art, Wikipedia