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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
Email: [email protected] / Phone: +44 7429 011000

The Dance and Dance I were two famous paintings from the career of French artist Henri Matisse and came about in 1909 and 1910.

The two paintings were produced on huge canvases measuring almost exactly the same dimensions. The two were very much the same in content, only with a twist on the colour tones used by the artist. You can see both paintings below and compare their differences.

Henri Matisse was a truly talented artist who has roughly been classified as a Fauvist and Modernist painter. Matisse was a highly creative artist who is best known for his use of bright colour in a similar way to post-impressionists like Dutchman Vincent van Gogh.

The Dance series is commonly compared to a William Blake watercolour, entitled Oberon, Titania and Puck with fairies dancing which had come around years earlier in 1786. It is not known whether Matisse ever saw this original painting or if it was the inspiration for his own works, but there is at least obvious similarities in their subjects, with a similar setup of dancing figures in a personal and charming display of emotion and happiness. Considering the length of art history and the broad knowledge which exists right across Europe, it is virtually inevitable that any painting will have had a similar one preceding it, so the similarities cannot alone be confirmation of influence upon Matisse some 130 years later.

Dance, above, was the second of the two paintings by Matisse, coming in 1910 and measuring 260 cm × 391 cm (102.4 in × 153.9 in). It is now stored in the The Hermitage in St. Petersburg due to the influence of a prominent Russian art buyer around the time of Matisse's life who was a massive supporter of his work and bought many of his most famous paintings after seeing ability which others seemingly could not. It is always highly surprising in the modern era to see how much this artist struggled for academic acceptance when there is clearly so much quality within so many of his paintings.

The Dance I painting was the original of this series of two paintings and came a year before the follow-up painting of 1910. Dance I features a slightly pinker skin tone on the dancers as well as a more subtle hue on the greens and blues of the background. The two paintings are other than these differences very similar and as such those who are looking for reproductions of the original have a helpful choice between two alternative colour setups and can decide which best suits their tastes plus the location where they intend to display their chosen copy. Most reproductions of Matisse originals are made as framed art prints, posters and stretched canvases.

Dance I was incredibly just a preparatory painting for the later Dance but had now established itself an an exceptional work in it's own right. There is somewhat less detail than in the second version that followed a year later, but it is understood that Matisse was decidely happy with the original study piece and perhaps that explains why the second copy was so similar in approach. The essential work from the original remained in the 1910 version, only with some tweaking to the palette by Matisse in order to achieve his common use of high levels of bright colour whilst the study piece was slightly subtler.

La Danse by Henri Matisse was immediately sought after by Russian businessman and art collector Sergei Shchukin who was Matisse's most loyal supporter for many years and was always keen to see the new painting once he had seen the previous preparation work that he also liked. This final piece was presented alongside another piece entitled Music and the two works sat in a prominent location within the home of this skilled art collector who had a habit of finding artists who were to become regarded as great talents but only some years later. Sergei Shchukin's own reputation is now greatily boosted by his brave backing of Matisse which today is seen as inspired and crucial to the later fame of the Frenchman.

Dance has become regarded as a significant moment in the career of Matisse who was starting to create ideas on canvas that would really progress modernist painting and still seem truly contemporary some 100 years later which is testament to the skills and imagination of this truly innovative artist whose name will always most strongly be linked to the use of bright colour within art in a similar way to how Van Gogh is remembered for thick brushstrokes and Seurat for intricate pointilist works.

List of Famous Henri Matisse Paintings

For those looking to learn more about Matisse after discovering his career through the Dance series of paintings, please see below for a full list of his best known oil paintings.

  • Woman Reading
  • Le Mur Rose
  • Notre-Dame, une fin d'après-midi
  • Interior A Nice
  • Odalisque with Raised Arms
  • Yellow Odalisque
  • The Plum Blossoms
  • Chapelle du Saint-Marie du Rosaire
  • Beasts of the Sea
  • The Sorrows of the King
  • Black Leaf on Green Background
  • La Négresse
  • The green line
  • Dance
  • White Tulips and Anemones
  • L'Asie
  • Deux fillettes, fond jaune et rouge
  • Jazz
  • Buisson
  • Pasiphae
  • The Open Window
  • Woman with a Hat
  • Les toits de Collioure
  • Goldfish
  • Beasts of the Sea
  • Landscape at Colliourem
  • Le bonheur de vivre
  • The Young Sailor II
  • Blue Nude I
  • Self-Portrait in a Striped T-shirt
  • Madras Rouge
  • The Dance II
  • Robe violette et Anémones
  • Woman in a Purple Coat
  • Le Rêve de 1940
  • La Blouse Roumaine
  • Le Lanceur De Couteaux
  • Annelies
  • King's Sadness
  • Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra)
  • The Dessert: Harmony in Red (The Red Room)
  • Interior with Phonograph
  • Bathers with a Turtle
  • La Danse
  • Still Life with Geraniums
  • L'Atelier Rouge
  • The Conversation
  • Zorah on the Terrace
  • Le Rifain assis
  • Window at Tangier
  • Le rideau jaune
  • The Window
  • La leçon de musique
  • The Painter and His Model
  • Blue Nude II
  • The Snail
  • Le Bateau

List of Famous Fauvist and Modernist Artists

Matisse was classed as a fauvist and modernist painter who is joined in these categories by some equally influential painters in and around the same time. See a list below of the most important artists within these art movements.

  • André Derain
  • Kees van Dongen
  • Maurice de Vlaminck
  • Charles Camoin
  • Hans Hofmann
  • Piet Mondrian
  • Louis-Ferdinand Céline
  • Salvador Dalí
  • Wyndham Lewis
  • William Butler Yeats
  • T. S. Eliot
  • Ezra Pound