Friday Art Cat: Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954)



Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954)

“I don’t paint things. I only paint the difference between things.”


The cat with Red fish

Throughout his decades-long career as a painter, sculptor, draftsman, and printmaker, the Frenchman Henri Matisse continuously searched, in his own words, “for the same things, which I have perhaps realised by different means.”  Celebrated as both an orchestrator of tonal harmonies and a draftsman capable of distilling a form to its essentials, he long sought a way to unite colour and line in his work. The relationship between these two formal elements can be traced from early works like Dance – in which the side of a dancer’s body, set against fields of rich blue and green, is described in a single, arcing contour—to his late cut-outs, in which the artist discovered a way at the end of his life to “cut directly into vivid colour.”

“Dance (I)” 1909.  Photo from

Matisse was born into generations of weavers in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, a northern French town whose woollen mills constituted the main industry. He was raised in nearby Bohain, famous for its luxury fabrics. This early exposure to textiles would shape his visual language: examples from his own collection of carpets and cloths from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East would deeply inform his sense of colour and pattern and appear in his compositions.

Taking up painting after first studying law, Matisse studied with the Symbolist Gustave Moreau and participated in Paris’s official Salons. His breakthrough as an artist came during the summers of 1904 and 1905, when the bright sunlight of the South of France inspired him—along with artists like André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck – to create optically dynamic works of bright, clashing colours that led to these artists being derided with the epithet fauves (wild beasts).  Known as Fauvism, the work from this period set him on a career-long path that he described as “construction by coloured surfaces.”  This approach remained central through the various stages of Matisse’s body of work—from his rigorous, abstracted paintings of the 1910s to the decorative, sunlit interiors of his so-called “Nice period” of the 1920s to the radically innovative cut-outs of his last decade.

Though much of his work—whether an ink drawing with a flowing arabesque line or a painting with flat expanses of unmodulated color—looks as if it might have been executed with effortless ease, Matisse cautioned that this effect was only an “apparent simplicity.”  In reality, he laboured exactingly to achieve the “art of balance, of purity and serenity” of which he dreamed.


Matisse and cat Minouche, in Nice

Matisse had an exceptional love for cats (and also doves).  His cats were called Minouche, Coussi, and La Puce the black cat.  Coussi, it is said, had an “M” for Matisse on his forehead.  He fed his cats pieces of brioche every morning (not sure this was in their best interests !)

Marguerite with a Black Cat, 1910
Photo : Georges Meguerditchian,
Centre Pompidou /RMNGP
© Succession H. Matisse

Photo by Frank Capra 1942

Interior with Goldfish 1914.

Photo MOMA.

This second version is by DeborahJulian, on etsy, who has added cats and don’t they look wonderful ?

More of her work here :


Sara Day

I am an artist who makes work of animals and people.

Three cats live with me – Maine coon Orlando, Bengal Pandora and black moggy Rio.

Commissions welcomed.

Instagram: Sardine.Art

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