The Dance painting by Henri Matisse is the artist’s most famous creation.
The Dance was painted in 1910 and it is broadly recognized as a high point in Matisse’s career and a defining moment in modern art.
With The Dance, Matisse aimed to represent a state of complete artistic and creative immersion. The rhythmic succession of nude dancing figures communicates feelings of emotional liberation, lightness and aesthetic hedonism.
Speaking to an interviewer in 1909, Matisse said “What I dream of… is an art of balance, of purity and serenity”. This was the same year he began work on The Dance.
This Henri Matisse artwork is now known as one of the most joyous paintings in the entirety of art history, it’s been described as a “whirl in ecstasy” and one of the most beautiful paintings of the modern world.
Despite this, commentators identify tension inherent within the piece. Gravity belies Matisse’s intended lightness. The figure closest to the viewer has lost their grasp of their companion.
This break threatens a violent stop to the inexorable orbit of grace and motion. The nearing disaster expresses the truth that life and joy are only meaningful in relation to their opposites.
The composition is reminiscent of William Blake's Oberon, Titania, and Puck with Fairies Dancing (1786), according to artistic inspiration. It’s unclear whether Matisse directly borrowed from the artwork, however.
Matisse’s dancers originally appeared as a small detail in the background of another of his artworks, The Joy of Life (1905).
Among Henri Matisse famous paintings, The Dance particularly stands out. It demonstrates Henri Matisse’s Fauvism; a new artistic style that particularly fascinated the artist.
The painting shows five people dancing in the air, their faces filled with joy. They are painted in red and green and blue. This classic color palette strongly echoes the Fauves paintings.
Directly translating as “the wild beasts” the Fauvist movement emphasized painterly emotion and vivid color. This was in direct contrast to the representational realism prized by the Impressionist movement championed by Claude Monet.
The Fauvist style began around 1904 and continued until the early 1910s. Led by André Derain and Henri Matisse, it was characterized by bold brush work and simplistic compositions.
Commissioned at the behest of Russian businessman and art collector Sergei Shchukin, The Dance currently hangs in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
It remained in Shchukin’s home until the Russian October Revolution of 1917.
Shchukin was an avid art collector, particularly fond of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters. He enjoyed a long working relationship with Matisse, explaining this special commission.
Henri-Emile-Benoit Matisse was born in Picardy, France, in 1869 into a wealthy family.
In 1889, whilst Matisse was recovering from an operation his mother provided him with some art materials. It was during this period that he decided he wanted to be an artist, thereby greatly disappointing his Grain Merchant father.
Matisse studied at the Academy Julien as a student of William-Adolphe Bouguereau where he became acquainted with John Russell, the Australian artist. It was Russell who introduced him to Impressionism and the art of Vincent van Gogh.
Upon the advice of Pissarro, Matisse visited London to learn more about the artist Joseph William Mallord Turner. Upon his return to Paris he painted with Albert Marquet and Andre Derain and it was with Derain that Matisse formed Les Fauves or the "The Wild Beasts" as they became known. The name was derived from a derogatory comment by a French art critic who implied that their art consisted of primitive bold clashing colors.
The Fauve Art Movement was brief but influential in the history of art, and it only influenced Matisse' paintings for a short time. However, his use of bright colors and over-emphasized form prevailed throughout his artistic life.
Henri Matisse is recognized as one of the greatest influences on modern art. He was a prolific artist and the diversity of his work is matched only by that of Picasso. His incredible 65 year career as an artist encompassed drawing, painting, and sculpture and paper cut-outs.
Le Bonheur de Vivre, or Joy of Life was painted in c1905 and was shown at the 1906 Exhibition Salon des Artistes Independants. It is the greatest of Matisse' Les Fauve paintings, capturing a pastoral scene in harmony with nature.
Red Room aka Harmony in Red is another fauve painting which was derided when it was exhibited at the Salon Automne. However, is now considered by Matisse art lovers as one of his finest paintings.
In 1904 Matisse was staying in Saint-Tropez as the house-guest of Paul Signac and there he painted Luxe Calme et Volupte. This early Matisse Pontillism Movement painting was inspired by Georges Seurat who devised the technique of painting with small dots of color to form an image.
The Dance 1910 was commissioned by Russian art collector Sergei Shchukin and subsequently bequeathed to the Hermitage Museum St Petersburg, where it remains and forms part of their permanent collection. An earlier version with a palette of lighter colors, Dance 1 1909 is held by MoMa.
Matisse worked intermittently on Bathers by a River 1917 over an 8 year period. It is considered an important painting as it harks back to Cubism an art movement which Matisse had previously rejected.
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