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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
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Look deeper into the mind of this creative genius with our extensive collection of Henri Matisse quotes, which cover his entire life and career, detailing his views on art and French society. There are also significant contributions from other notable individuals about his own achievements and qualities.

Famous Quotes by Henri Matisse

An artist must never be a prisoner. Prisoner? An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of style, prisoner of reputation, prisoner of success, etc.

An artist must possess nature. He must identify himself with her rhythm, by efforts that will prepare the mastery which will later enable him to express himself in his own language.

A picture must possess a real power to generate light and for a long time now I've been conscious of expressing myself through light or rather in light.

A young painter who cannot liberate himself from the influence of past generations is digging his own grave.

A young woman has young claws, well sharpened. If she has character, that is. And if she hasn't so much the worse for you.

Creativity takes courage.

Cutting into color reminds me of the sculptor's direct carving.

Derive happiness in oneself from a good day's work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us.

Drawing is like making an expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence.

Exactitude is not truth.

Expression, for me, does not reside in passions glowing in a human face or manifested by violent movement. 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.

I desire pleasure. I am not a revolutionary by principle. I was educated in an entirely different manner.

I do not literally paint that table, but the emotion it produces upon me.

I don't paint things. I only paint the difference between things.

I don't know whether I believe in God or not. I think, really, I'm some sort of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.

I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have the light joyousness of springtime, which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost me....

I have been no more than a medium, as it were.

I'm growing old, I delight in the past.

Impressionism is the newspaper of the soul.

In love, the one who runs away is the winner.

In modern art, it is undoubtedly to Cézanne that I owe the most.

Instinct must be thwarted just as one prunes the branches of a tree so that it will grow better.

In the beginning you must subject yourself to the influence of nature. You must be able to walk firmly on the ground before you start walking on a tightrope.

It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.

It is only after years of preparation that the young artist should touch color - not color used descriptively, that is, but as a means of personal expression.

It is not enough to place colors, however beautiful, one beside the other; colors must also react on one another. Otherwise, you have cacophony.

I took up sculpture because what interested me in painting was a clarification of my ideas. I changed my method, and worked in clay in order to have a rest from painting where I had done all I could for the time being. That is to say that it was done for the purposes of organ ization, to put order into my feelings, and find a style to suit me. When I found it in sculpture, it helped me in my painting. It ivas alivays in view of a complete possession of my mind, a sort of hierarchy of all my sensations, that I kept working in the hope of finding an ultimate 1 method.

I would like to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it.

I wouldn't mind turning into a vermilion goldfish.

Jazz is rhythm and meaning.

My curves are not crazy.

My mother liked everything I did. It is from her affection for her that I always drew what theory failed to offer me per finish the painting.

Seek the strongest color effect possible... the content is of no importance.

The essential thing is to spring forth, to express the bolt of lightning one senses upon contact with a thing. The function of the artist is not to translate an observation but to express the shock of the object on his nature; the shock, with the original reaction.

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.

There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.

Time extracts various values from a painter's work. When these values are exhausted the pictures are forgotten, and the more a picture has to give, the greater it is.

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be 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.

What interests me most is neither still life nor landscape: it is the human figure.

When I put a green, it it not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky.

Why have I never been bored? For more than fifty years I have never ceased to work.

With color one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft.

Work cures everything.

Would not it be best to leave room to mystery?

You study, you learn, but you guard the original naivete. It has to be within you, as desire for drink is within the drunkard or love is within the lover.

Quotes about Henri Matisse by Art Historians and Fellow Artists

Matisse... had first studied law and then spent [six] years as an art student... In the years following the 1900 World's Fair he struggled with poverty ...and with a good deal of public indifference toward his work. During that time, he worked his way through the different modes of vision employed in nineteenth-century avant-guard painting, starting with the impressionists and then moving on to Seurat, van Gogh, Gauguin, and especially Cézanne, who was to remain the greatest and longest-lasting source of inspiration to him. As early as 1899, Matisse made great sacrifices in order to buy a small but powerful Cézanne, Three Bathers, and he was the first of the younger avant-guard artists to absorb the radically new kind of pictorial thought that Cézanne's painting embodied. Cézanne was... Matisse said, "a sort of god of painting."

Jack Flam, Matisse and Picasso: The Story of Their Rivalry and Their Friendship

As Picasso began to occupy the territory of Cézanne, Matisse seemed to be moving closer to the legacy of van Gogh and Gauguin... pushed to find a new and different way of dealing with the fluidity and dynamism... in Cézanne... by turning even more intensely toward the decorative. During most of 1908... Matisse continued to work with flat forms and to explore the inherent ambiguities of the pictorial field—especially... the sensation of limitless space and to have... the background become... more important than the figures it contained. Since childhood he had loved textiles, and he had an acute understanding of the possible symbolic uses for decorative patterns—as in van Gogh's portraits of Madame Roulin as "La Berceuse," in which the floral pattern... becomes a metaphor for her vitality and fertility. Matisse's use of decorative patterning also provided... another way of holding emotion at arm's length while maintaining its intensity. It allowed... a pictorial space... sufficiently open and imaginative to incorporate a... range of contrasting visual rhythms... to evoke different... perceptual sensations. Such a fluid and open space enabled him to invest everyday subjects with... spirituality.

Jack Flam, Matisse and Picasso: The Story of Their Rivalry and Their Friendship

Years later he [ Picasso ] would tell the French writer [w:André Malraux|André Malraux] of something else that shaped his Demoiselles [made in Paris, June-July 1907]. Matisse had shown him an African statue he'd bought. Then Picasso went to the dingy ethnographic museum in Paris, the 'Trocadero', with its collection of primitive artifacts. It smelled like a flea market, but it opened his eyes to the magic of masks and fetishes. 'If you give spirits a shape, you break free from them', he said, [and]: 'Suddenly.. .I grasped why I was a painter. All alone in that museum, surrounded by masks, Red Indian dolls, dummies covered with dust. The Demoiselles must have come that day.. ..because it was my first exorcising picture.'

Paul Trachtman, Matisse & Picasso