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)

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

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

Auguste Rodin: 1840-1917

The Thinker - Auguste RodinBorn on November 12, 1840, in Mouffetard – a working-class district of Paris, France, Auguste Rodin is considered to be one of the  most important sculptors of modern times.   He began drawing at the age of 10 and at 14, attended the Petite Ecole – a special school for drawing and mathematics.  Rodin was a promising student but failed three times to gain admission to the Ecole des Beaux Arts.

From 1858 and for the next two decades, Rodin worked for several masons, and ornamentalists, who supplied decorative objects and embellishments for buildings.

The death of Rodin’s sister in 1862, led to his briefly joining the Catholic Order of the Pères du Saint-Sacrement.  He was encouraged by its head, Pierr-Julien Eymard, to devote himself to art and Rodin left the order in 1863. The following year, in 1864, he met and began living with Rose Beuret, his life-long companion. She gave birth to their son Auguste Beuret that year.

Rodin’s reputation as a modeler grew and from 1864 – 1872, he began working with the sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse as his chief assistant. During this time they traveled to Brussels, Belgium where Rodin participated in the decoration of the Palais des Académies, painted a series of landscapes of the Soignes forest, and made some lithographs to illustrate the satirical magazine Le Petit Comique.

In 1875, Rodin spent two months in Italy studying Donatello and Michaelangelo both of whom had a significant affect on his work. Rodin said, “It is Michelangelo who has freed me from academic sculpture.”

“The Bronze Age”, Rodin’s first recognized masterpiece was exhibited in 1877 at the Cercle Artistique et Littéraire in Brussels, then the Salon des Artistes Français in Paris. The life-sized male nude was such a departure from academic sculpture that Rodin was accused of casting from a live model – a charge that was disproved by photographs the artist kept on which the sculpture was based.

The 1880’s proved to be Rodin’s most productive period in his life.  During this time he began “The Gates of Hell”, a monumental sculptural group depicting scenes from Dante’s Inferno in high relief.  He also created a series of realistic portraits that were exhibited in the Salons after which critics began to describe him as a “great artist and the best young sculptor in modern France”. He also created well such well known works as ” The Monument to the Burghers of Calais”, “The Thinker”, and “The Kiss”. It was also during this period that Rodin met Camille Claudel with whom he had a stormy relationship until 1898.

In 1895, Rodin purchased the Villa des Brillants in Meudon which he had rented since 1893 and started to build up his collection of antiques and paintings.  By this time, Rodin had become one of the most famous artists of the time.  He was host to royalty, politicians, young artists and writers, and the societal elite. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke, published a study of Rodin in 1903 and served as his secretary from 1905 to 1906.  Rodin’s work was exhibited throughout Europe and the United States and he received honorary degrees from Universities such as Oxford, Jena, and Glasgow.

Rodin’s popularity as a sculptor often overshadows his total creative output.  He created thousands of busts, figures, and sculptural fragments over his lifetime.  He painted in oils and in watercolours and the Musée Rodin holds 7,000 of his drawings and prints in chalk, charcoal, and drypoints.

Wanting to give permanence to his work, Rodin offered France his entire collection if they agreed to establish a Musée Rodin. In 1916, after much negotiation, the French government designated the Hôtel Biron on the Rue de Varenne, where Rodin had been renting rooms since 1908, as a future Musée Rodin, and received in turn donations of work owned by the artist.

Rodin suffered a severe stroke in March of 1916.  In February 1917, he married Rose Beuret, two weeks before her death.  Rodin died that same year on November 17, 1917. He was buried next to Rose and a cast of The Thinker was placed next to their tomb in Meudon.

For more information about Rodin, visit the Musée Rodin website which presents a collection of his sculptures, sketches, and paintings. For a more in-depth biography, visit the source links below.

Related Books:
Rodin: His Art and His Inspiration

Rodin on Art and Artists (Fine Art Series)

Auguste Rodin: Drawings & Watercolors

Sources: MoMA, National Gallery of Art, Wikipedia

Andy Warhol: 1928 – 1987

Born Andrew Warhola on August 6, 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Andy Warhol was a painter, printmaker, and filmmaker and a  pivotal figure in the formation of the  Pop Art movement.

Warhol was the son of working-class Slovakian immigrants. His frequent illnesses in childhood often kept him bedridden and at home. During this time, he formed a strong bond with his mother.  It was what he describes an important period in the formation of his personality and skill set.

Warhol studied at the School of Fine Arts at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon University), majoring in pictorial design. In 1949, he moved to New York City where he quickly became successful in magazine illustration and advertising, producing work for publications such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and the The New Yorker.

Much of Warhol’s work the 1950’s was commissioned by fashion houses and he became known for his whimsical ink drawings of I. Miller shoes. In 1952, Warhol’s illustrations for Truman Capote’s writings were exhibited by the Hugo Gallery in New York and he exhibited at several other venues in the 1950′s including a 1956 group show at the Museum of Modern Art. Warhol received several awards during this decade from the Art Director’s Club and the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Warhol was enthralled with Hollywood celebrities, fashion, and style and by the early 1960’s these interests were reflected in his artwork. Borrowing images from popular culture, Warhol’s “Pop Art” paintings were characterized by repetition of everyday objects such as soup cans, Coca Cola bottles, and 100 dollar bills.  He also began painting celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Most of Warhol’s paintings were produced in his studio that he called “The Factory” with the help of assistants. Photographic images were screen-printed on to painted backgrounds and mechanically repeated – a process that mimicked the manufacturing industry and parodied mass consumption. During the Factory years, Warhol associated with and “groomed” a variety of artists, writers, musicians, and underground celebrities including Edie Sedgwick, Viva, writer John Giorno, and film-maker Jack Smith.

Warhol worked prolifically in a range of media including painting, photography, drawing, sculpture, and film. Between 1963 and 1968 he produced more than 60 films and about 500 short “screen test” portraits of his studio visitors. His most popular and successful film was Chelsea Girls, made in 1966.

On June 3, 1968, Warhol and art critic/curator Mario Amaya, were shot by Valerie Solanas after she was turned away from the Factory studio. Warhol’s wound was almost fatal and would affect him physically and mentally for the rest of his life.

The 1970’s was a quieter decade for Warhol who concentrated more on portrait commissions for celebrities such as Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, and others.  He founded Interview Magazine and in 1975 published “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol” which expressed the idea that “Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art.” During the 1970’s Warhol was also involved in a number collaborations with young artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente and Keith Haring.

In general, Andy Warhol was consistently ambiguous on the meaning of his work and appeared indifferent and ambivalent. He denied that his artwork carried any social or political commentary.

Warhol died in New York City on February 22, 1987 of a cardiac arrhythmia while recovering from routine gallbladder surgery. In his will, almost his entire estate was dedicated to the “advancement of the visual arts”. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was founded in that same year and it remains one of the largest grant-giving organizations for the visual arts in the United States today.

Sources: MOMA, Guggenheim, National Gallery of Canada, Andy Warhol Foundation, Wikipedia