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)

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

Pablo Picasso: 1881-1973


Born on October 25, 1881, in Málaga, Spain, Pablo Picasso (Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso) was a painter, sculptor, draughtsman, printmaker, decorative artist, and writer.  “His revolutionary artistic accomplishments, including the co-founding of Cubism, brought him universal renown making him one of the best-known figures in 20th century art.”

The son of an academic painter, José Ruiz Blasco, Picasso began to draw at an early age. In 1895 the family moved to Barcelona where Picasso studied La Lonja Academy of Fine Arts. Picasso’s first exhibition took place in Barcelona in 1900, and that fall he traveled to Paris for the first of several stays during the early years of the century. Picasso settled in Paris in April 1904, and his circle of friends included Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Gertrude and Leo Stein, as well as two dealers, Ambroise Vollard and Berthe Weill.

Picasso’s work is generally categorized into commonly accepted periods:

Blue Period (1901-1904) – Picasso worked in a predominantly blue palette and his imagery focused on outcasts, beggars and invalided prostitutes. He produced his first sculptures: a modeled figure, Seated Woman, and two bronze facial masks

Rose Period (1905-1907) – Picasso’s work was dominated by pink and flesh tints and by delicate drawing.  These works were less monochromatic than the Blue Period. Harlequins, circus performers and clowns appear frequently in this period.

Primitivism (1906-1908) – Picasso’s works made reference to forms of archaic art and made expressive use of distortion with subdued greys and earth colours and rhythmical repetitions and contrasts. Picasso made his first carved sculptures. The resistance of wood produced simplified forms similar to his paintings.

Analytic Cubism (1909-1912) – Picasso produced works where objects were deconstructed into their components. His images were increasingly transparent and difficult to interpret and characterized by a growing discontinuity of figurative fragments. From 1909, Georges Braque and Picasso worked closely together to develop Cubism. By 1911 their styles were extremely similar and during this time, it was virtually  impossible to distinguish one from the other.

Synthetic Cubism (1912–1919) – In 1912, Picasso and Braque began to incorporate elements of collage into their paintings and to experiment with the papier collé (pasted paper) technique. “Both collage and papier collé offered a new method not only of suggesting space but also of replacing conventional forms of representation with fragments of images that function as signs. During two further phases of his development of papier collé in 1913, Picasso discovered that shapes could acquire other meanings or identities simply by their arrangement, without requiring a resemblance to naturalistic appearances. A single shape might wittily and equally convincingly stand for the side of a guitar or a human head.”

Classicism and Surrealism – From 1916-1922, Picasso collaborated on ballet and theatrical productions. He designed five complete ballet productions while still maintaining his career as a painter. During the 1920s, along with the continuing influence of Cubism, Picasso created a personal form of neo-classicism where his work showed a renewed interest in drawing and figural representation. From 1925 to the 1930s Picasso was involved to a certain degree with the Surrealists, and from the fall of 1931 he was especially interested in making sculpture. In 1932, with large exhibitions at the Galeries Georges Petit, Paris, and the Kunsthaus Zürich, and the publication of the first volume of Christian Zervos’s catalogue raisonné, Picasso’s fame increased greatly.

“By 1936 the Spanish Civil War had profoundly affected Picasso, the expression of which culminated in his 1937 painting Guernica. After the invasion of France by the Germans in 1940, Picasso continued to  live in his Paris studio. Although monitored by the German authorities, he was still able to work and even to cast some sculpture in bronze.”

In 1944, Picasso became associated with the Communist Party.  From August 1947 he made ceramics at the Madoura potteries in Vallauris, partly motivated by political concerns. He also produced a considerable number of bronze sculptures in the early 1950s, including some of his best-known works in the medium.

“Picasso’s final works were a mixture of styles, his means of expression in constant flux until the end of his life. Devoting his full energies to his work, Picasso became more daring, his works more colorful and expressive, and from 1968 through 1971 he produced a torrent of paintings and hundreds of copperplate etchings. At the time these works were dismissed by most as pornographic fantasies of an impotent old man or the slapdash works of an artist who was past his prime. Only later, after Picasso’s death, when the rest of the art world had moved on from abstract expressionism, did the critical community come to see that Picasso had already discovered neo-expressionism and was, as so often before, ahead of his time.”

Pablo Picasso died on April 8, 1973 at the age of 91. He was extremely prolific throughout his career. He produced approximately 50,000 artworks including  1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, 12,000 drawings, thousands of prints, and numerous tapestries and rugs.

For a more in-depth biography of Picasso, see the source links below and be sure to visit the On-line Picasso Project – a non-profit project that catalogues an amazingly large number of Picasso’s works and a timeline of the artist’s life. The website contains over 16,000 catalogued artworks, over 6,000 notes, and thousands of commentaries, biographical entries, and archived news articles.

Sources: Guggenheim, MoMA, Wikipedia, Ciudad de la Pintura (images)

Related Books:
Picasso: Painting Against Time

Picasso (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists)
A Life of Picasso: The Prodigy, 1881-1906

Alberto Giacometti: 1901 – 1966

Born on October 10, 1901 in Borgonovo, Switzerland, Alberto Giacometti was a sculptor, painter, draughtsman and printmaker.   His father, Giovanni Giacometti, was a Post-Impressionist painter. From 1919 – 1920, Giacometti studied painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and sculpture and drawing at the Ecole des Arts et Métiers in Geneva.  Between 1922 – 1927, he  studied sculpture off and on in Paris under Emile-Antoine Bourdelle at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.   In 1927, Giacometti and his brother Diego, his lifelong companion and assistant,  moved into a studio in Montparnasse, returning annually to Switzerland to visit family.

Giacometti made few noteworthy sculptures before 1925 when he turned to Cubism and was influenced by the works of Jacques Lipchitz and Henri Laurens. He was also influenced by African art which resulted in his first important sculptures: Man and Woman and Spoon Woman. “These totemic sculptures consist of radically simplified forms; their rigid frontality and use of male and female nudes as sexual types or symbols were to have long-lasting implications for Giacometti’s later work.”

Giacometti’s first period of significant creativity began in 1927 and over the next seven years, he created sculptures in a wide variety of styles. During this year, he exhibited his sculpture for the first time at the Salon des Tuileries in Paris and in Switzerland at the Galerie Aktuaryus in Zurich. In 1928, Giacometti met André Masson and from 1930 – 1935, he was a participant in the Surrealist circle. His first solo show took place in 1932 at the Galerie Pierre Colle, Paris and in 1934, he had a solo show at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York.

“Giacometti emerged as the Surrealists’ most innovative sculptor, extending the parameters of sculpture both conceptually and stylistically. In addition to modelling in plaster, he made constructed sculptures with varied and fragile materials, for example suspending elements such as plaster or glass in delicate structures of extremely thin wood and string. In nearly all his Surrealist sculptures, empty space plays an active role, both compositionally and psychologically.”

From 1930–36 Giacometti participated in many exhibitions around the world, including Galerie Pierre, Paris, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New Burlington Galleries, London, and others in Brussels, Zurich and Copenhagen. However,  in 1935 he rejected Surrealism to return to representational art based on study from life.

In the early 1940s, Giacometti became friends with Simone de Beauvoir, Pablo Picasso, and Jean-Paul Sartre. From 1942, Giacometti lived in Geneva, and associated with the publisher Albert Skira. In late 1945, he returned to Paris where he began his second period of intense creativity. His best-known post-war sculptures portray single or grouped figures, all startlingly skeletal in proportions and often mounted on large or heavy bases.

“Giacometti’s figures, with their seeming emaciation, anonymity and isolation in space, immediately struck a responsive chord in critics and collectors. His sculptures were perceived as appropriate metaphors for the human condition of post-war Europe: the horror of the concentration camps, displaced persons, destroyed lives. On a more philosophical level, critics also viewed Giacometti’s art as Existentialist, an interpretation introduced by Sartre in his two essays on Giacometti’s art.”

During this period,  Giacometti drew constantly and painted regularly. “His drawing style consisted of rapidly executed, often continuous lines that swirl around, over, and through his subject, never quite defining it yet conveying a sense of its mass and mystery. The earliest post-war drawings have heavy reworkings, often obscuring facial features in an expressionist vortex of lines. Around 1954, he expanded his drawing scope. His pencil drawings of portraits, nudes, still-lifes and interiors from the mid-1950s display a fusion of power and delicacy, as lines interweave in geometrically structured traceries overlaid with darker smudgings and greyed shadows in a ceaselessly moving realm where nothing appears solid or stable.”

Giacometti’s post-war work brought him international acclaim. Between 1948 – 1958, he exhibited several times at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York and at Galerie Maeght in Paris. Museums acquired his work, and the Kunsthalle in Berne held a one-man show in 1954. In 1955, he had separate retrospectives at the Arts Council Gallery in London and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Public fame took up a great amount of Giacometti’s time in the last years of his life where collectors, dealers, young artists, curators and the media flocked to his studio. He received the Sculpture Prize at the 1961 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh and the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the 1962 Venice Biennale. In 1965, exhibitions were held at the Tate Gallery, London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. That same year, he was awarded the Grand Prix National des Arts by the French government.

On January 11, 1966, Alberto Giacometti died of complication from pericarditis (heart disease)  in Chur, Switzerland. His body was returned to his birthplace in Borgonovo, Swizterland where he was interred close to his parents.

Sources: Guggenheim, MoMA

Jean Paul Riopelle: 1923 – 2002

Born on October 7, 1923 in Montreal, Canada, Jean-Paul Riopelle is one of Canada’s most famous painters. Riopelle studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Montreal in 1942, and then at the École du Meuble, graduating in 1945. He studied with Paul-Émile Borduas under whose direction Riopelle created his first abstract painting.

Riopelle was a member of a group of writers and artists in Quebec called the Automatistes, led by Borduas, and was a signer of the Refus global manifesto. In 1946 he traveled to France, where he returned and settled the following year. Pioneering a style of painting where large quantities of  coloured paints were thickly applied to the canvas with a trowel, Riopelle gained increasing success and immersion in the Parisian cultural scene. From 1949, he had numerous solo exhibitions in Canada, France, Italy, Spain, England, the United States and Sweden. He was represented in New York and participated in the biennials of contemporary art in Venice (1954) and Sao Paulo (1955). He spent his evenings in Paris bistros with friends including playwright Samuel Beckett and artist Alberto Giacometti.

In the 1960s, Riopelle renewed his ties to Canada. Exhibitions were held at the National Gallery of Canada (1963), and the Musée du Quebec held a retrospective in 1967. In the early 1970s, he built a home and studio in the Laurentians in Quebec. From 1974 he divided his time between St. Marguerite in Quebec, and Saint-Cyr-en-Arthies in France. Riopelle participated in his last exhibition in 1996. From 1994 until his death, he maintained homes in both St. Marguerite and Isle-aux-Grues, Quebec.  Jean Paul Riopelle died at his home on Îsle-aux-Grues on March 12, 2002.

Riopelle received numerous awards and honorary degrees in his lifetime including the 1958 Prix International Guggenheim award, the 1962 Unesco prize, the 1973 Philippe Hébert Prize, and in 1975, he was inducted as a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Riopelle’s works are in collections around the globe including New York’s Guggenheim Museum and The Museum of Modern Art, the Galerie d’art Moderne in Basel, Switzerland, the Museum of Modern Art in Brazil, Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario, and Ottawa’s National Gallery.

Sources: Gallerie Walter Klinkhoff, National Gallery of Canada, All-Art.org,