Creative Sketchbooks, Module 1, Chapter 8: Matisse and Colour


Activity 8.1 Find out more about the artist Matisse. Using your computer search engine look for examples of the work of Matisse. Google or Ask are have a good range of images. Or search any art books you may have or can borrow from the library.

I looked at Matisse last year, while I was doing Chapter 5, (Cut-Outs), and I visited the Matisse Cut-Outs Exhibition at Tate Modern & wrote about it here, as prequel to this chapter so now I’m looking at his life, and his paintings. I find him fascinating, especially his views in colour, drawing, composition and so on, and there’s a wealth of of information , but I’ve tried to keep it brief – you’d need to write a book to get everything in.


Note: I’ve only got a few pages left in the sketchbook, and I didn’t want to start a new one just for this chapter, so I’ve taped some pages in.

Page 1, Portraits of Matisse: I was curious to discover the way he saw himself, the way other artists saw him, and the way he was revealed before the camera.

Matisse 1

Page 2Matisse His Life: I’m still trying to get away from ending up with a sketchbook that looks like a school exercise book or a college essay, so rather than printing out the information on an A4 sheet, or scrawling some rather illegible details by hand, I’ve printed the data on yellow paper, and made a zigzag book, decorated with washi tape and stuck into the sketchbook. It opens up and is easy to read, but it’s a bit long, which makes it awkward to photograph, so I’ve printed it here, below the next two photographs:

matisse 2

matisse 3

Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse was born in 1869, in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, in the north of France, and died in Nice (where he had lived and worked for almost 40 years) in 1954, aged 84. He was brought up in Picardie, and in 1887 became a law student in Paris for a year, then worked as a solicitor’s clerk. In 1889, while recuperating from an illness, he began painting. “From the moment I held the box of colours in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves,” he said.

Matisse returned to Paris in 1891 to study art. Initially, his paintings were traditional, but his work seems to have changed after he visited Australian artist John Peter Russell in 1896 and 1897. Although Matisse always cited Cezanne as his biggest influence, he insisted it was Russell who explained colour theory to him, and it would be nice to think that the Australian’s impressionistic style and bright, bold use of colour may also have had some effect on his work.

Matisse believed a painter should not be influenced by the art that has gone before. He was always open to new ideas and techniques, constantly exploring new methods, and thinking about the theory of his art. His interests were wide-ranging, and included Japanese art; Moorish art; divisionism (where the positioning of colours affects adjoining colours), primitivism (influenced by African art), and Fauvism (Fauvists gained their ‘wild beasts’ nickname through their use of clashing colours, which often bore no relation to the actual colours of their subjects).

He sought the strongest colour effect possible, claiming that colour ‘contributes to the expression of light’, and that it is a ‘liberation’. He also thought colours must react on one another – otherwise, he warned, you have cacophony. He believed exactitude in art was not important. He stressed that when he painted grass it was not real grass, and said it was the emotion of the thing that mattered. “I simply try to use colours that express my feelings,” he explained.

He also thought the whole composition of a painting was important, and used shape as a focal point – sometimes using positive space for this, and sometimes negative.

“The entire arrangement of my picture is expressive; the place occupied by the figures, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything has its share,” he said.

When I studied some of his paintings more closely I could see what he meant, and landscapes and figures are as carefully arranged as lemons and dishes.

In 1940 ill health confined him to a wheelchair, and he was no longer able to use a paintbrush, and that’s when he began creating pictures using shapes, figures and objects cut from paper which was painted by assistants.

His use of pure, vibrant colour, and the sinuous shapes he created in the last 15 years of his life seem to me to be the final evolution of his work, and a kind of distillation of all his ideas and beliefs about art.

I’ve said before, the more I find out about Matisse, and more I look at his work, the more interested I get, and the more I like him. He was very articulate, and obviously thought deeply about his art, and what it meant, and how it could be achieved. His passion for colour remained a constant, but he was always changing, trying new techniques, and finding ways of looking at things.

And I’m amazed at the quantity and variety of his work – not only paintings and cut-outs, but prints, sculpture, books, and stained glass and other items for the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence.

His private life sounds a little complicated. In 1894 he had a daughter by model Caroline Joblau, but when he married Amélie Noellie Parayre in 1898 he and his wife cared for the child, and had two sons of their own. The couple separated in 1939.

Page 3 Matisse Still Lifes

matisse 4

Activity 8.2: Paint a still life picture in the style of Matisse using a photograph to create the composition

Page 1 Initial Thoughts!

matisse 5

Page 2 Tracing and Photocopy.

matisse 6

matisse 7

Page 3 Photo and Colour Matching, with acrylic paints.

matisse 8

Page 4 Poor quality photocopy (out of ink again) of my Matisse-style painting (before I went back in and tried to improve it), with comments below, and a scanned pic of the painting as far as it went at this stage.

matisse 9

Page 5 Overview. This page is stuck is a taped-in one.

matisse 10

Page 6 The Painting! Not very good I’m afraid, but I’ve stuck with it, and it is painted directly on to the page in the sketchbook, which I think was very brave of me!

matisse 11

These were the various lay-outs I tried for my Still Life painting – I got a bit carried away! I really liked the turquoise paper with the butterflies with the fabric which I did eventually use, but I decided there wasn’t enough colour contrast.






About chrisharding53

I'm a former journalist and sub-editor who loves needlework, reading and writing, and is still searching for the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. Until I find the answer I'm volunteering at an Oxfam Book Shop and learning about Creative Sketchbooks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s