What Style Was Henri Matisse's Work?

Henri Matisse's artwork spanned some of the most exciting periods in art history. Like Picasso, he worked in many different mediums and was one of the first great painters of the 20th century. Though his work varied in subject and material, his style is what is commonly referred to as Fauvism.


The term "fauve" is french for "wild beast," coined by art critic Louis Vauxcelles in reaction to the work of Henri Matisse and other artists of what became known as the Fauvist Movement in France. He gave them this name because of the bright colors, unfettered brush strokes and simple subject matter of the artwork, which made it appear wild and free, animal like in its nature. Though the movement itself only lasted four years, from 1904-1908, Matisse's work persisted in examining its bold hues and shapes.

Origins of Fauvism

Fauvism has its roots in the art movements of Impressionism and Primitivism, which were popular around the late 1800s and early 1900s. From these movements, the Fauvists took both the rich color palette, gestural movements and influence from African masks, with its exaggerated facial features.

Matisse's Style

Henri Matisse's artwork contained common subject matter, such as human faces and figures, but instead of using the skin tones and realistic colors, that were true to life, he used vivid uncommon colors to suggest feelings and notions of what the face was like.

Matisse's Cutouts

Though Matisse was primarily a painter, he also was known for his drawings, sculptures and printmaking. Later in Henri Matisse's life, he became ill and bedridden and could no longer paint. Instead, he began to create vibrant collages with colorful paper that he cut into whimsical shapes, known as his cutouts. Even without paint and canvas, his work held its hallmark Fauvist traits of being immensely colorful and gestural.

Matisse's Legacy

Henri Matisse's exploration of the purity of color and desire to simplify art, to make it just color and shape can be argued to be where Modern art began. He said, "Color was not given to us in order that we should imitate nature, but so that we can express our own emotions." This was a revolutionary concept, which would become an important notion in the art of the 20th century. It heavily influenced the early Expressionism movement with artists like Pollock and Willem de Kooning who felt that art should come from within the artist, be deeply personal and full of movement and life.