Henri Matisse was a prominent Fauvist painter in France during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The group of painters earned their name when an observer at the Salon noticed the Renaissance style paintings that were surrounded by the modern works of art. He declared that it was “Donatella chez les fauves” (Donatella among the wild beasts). Although they were permitted to display their art in the Salon, the Fauvists were looked on as radicals, and were sometimes even laughed at.
It was Matisse’s mother who introduced him to painting and colors. She worked in a shop that sold paints and would advise the customers on color schemes. She also was the first person to give him paints. He had been working as a clerk after passing his bar exams and had had an episode of appendicitis, so she brought him the paints while he was recovering. He fell in love with painting and drastically changed his career from clerk to artist.
Matisse first studied in a traditional art school, but didn’t like the strict rules surrounding the creation of art in the traditional way. His mother also encouraged him to follow his own emotions in art rather than the rules that traditional art implied.
Matisse’s art follows in the footsteps of impressionism because it separates both the artist and the observer from the rest of the world. The work becomes part of an individual experience that the observer interprets on his or her own rather than being able to relate it to a story from common knowledge history. In creating the art, Matisse had to separate himself from the distractions caused by his family and moved to a separate village in order to get the piece and solitude he needed to create. Just as they were created in solitude, the paintings are meant to be part of an individual experience. Matisse described his ideal art as art “for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.”
The painting entitled, The Joy of Life is a painting by Matisse of woodland nymphs. It is described as a celebration of the nymph’s life and womanhood. For example, one is braiding her hair with flowers and another is picking one. There is a couple embracing in the corner. Overall, the picture seems hazy and hallucinatory as though the nymphs are engaging in drugs while they are gathered in their clearing. The nymphs are also giving off a sexual vibe as they lounge together naked in the forest. The painting points toward the individual’s experience and pleasure and seems to reference nothing in particular outside of what the nymphs and the viewer feel. The notion is one that becomes increasingly common in modern art. It is the individual and his or her experiences and emotions that are most important.