Henri Matisse

As an Art teacher, one of my greatest joys is to facilitate and witness the students' growth in the critical thinking and creative process.  Art should be accessible to all students, not just the talented or well-connected few.  Child development professional Grace Lynch revealed in her article, The Importance of Art in Child Development, that motor skills, language development and inventiveness are essential developmental skills children receive when given formal training in the arts.

Since the Wayne County Public School System does not provide a formal elementary school art program, this series was created to enlighten, and enable parents to build the foundation of art literacy needed for success once their students enter the Wayne County, middle school art program.  In recent months we presented the seven elements of art.

In this new series, we will “Meet the Masters” of the Art world. The masters we will begin with were called, “Fauvists” or Wild beasts. This twentieth-century movement in modern art began in 1899. They loved intense color and wanted to be outrageous, and were, for their time.

Henri Matisse emerged as the leader of the group. Matisse was not always a famous painter. He grew up in a small town in Northern France where the dreary winter skies were gray and cold. His mother tried to make his days a little brighter by painting beautiful plates and hung them on the walls. Henri mixed the colors of paint for his mother to use. Henri loved mixing the colors!



Henri also loved raising pigeons. He thought the way their colors changed with the light was beautiful.  His mother called their coloring "iridescence". Even during this happy time Henri’s parents worried about him. He did not do well at school, or violin lessons, or anything really- except for day-dreaming. Henri was WONDERFUL at dreaming! He dreamed of being a magician, a clown, and an actor. But Henri’s parents dreamed of Henri becoming a lawyer. So, to make his parents happy, Henri became a law clerk. He was VERY unhappy as a law clerk. He was so unhappy that when Henri was 21 years old he ended up in the hospital, for months! While in the hospital he grew very bored! When he saw a man in the bed next to him happily painting, he asked his parents if he might have a paint set too.

When Henri opened that box, he fell in love with the colors at once! As he picked up the brush and began to paint he immediately asked his parents if he might go to art school. Although they were disappointed they granted his wish. While Henri attended “Academic Julian” he was taught that all good paintings looked “realistic”. When Henri changed schools his new teacher, Gustave Moreau encouraged him to find his own way of painting. Henri began to experiment with different types of painting like “Impressionism” where it did not matter if the paintings were life-like or not. Then Henri explored “Pointillism”, where small dots are used like a puzzle to form a picture.

Henri loved to show feelings using colors. Red might show anger or excitement. Orange may show love. Many people thought Henri, and other artists like him were “crazy”, so they called them “les fauves” which is French for “wild beasts”. Later these dauntless artists were called “fauvists”. Many people liked this new style. Matisse became rich selling his Fauvist paintings. When he was in his 60’s Matisse had an operation and he never fully recovered. He spent much of his time in bed. He began to make paper art that he called, “Drawing with Scissors”. Matisse filled his room with paper artwork! Henri said, “Why didn’t I think of this earlier?” The biggest project Henri Matisse ever did was for a young nun named, Sister Jacques-Marie when she asked him to decorate her whole church. Henri continued to make collages, sculptures and “scissor drawings” until he died in 1954 at the age of 84.

The following are some wonderful online resources and books you can take out at the Wayne County library.

Online Resources:

Created by the Baltimore Museum of art the fabulous site below was created just for kids! This site enables you to take a tour of Matisse's home with his dog Raudi as your guide! This super engaging site makes Matisse and his works come to life!


Join Mati and Dada as they are magically whisked away to Matisse’s house where Henri himself teaches them about his work.


This super cool teacher at MrPStudios will guide your student through a collage project where they can make their very own “drawing with Scissors” project!



Play art games, write stories, and upload and share art with other kids around the world! Tate Kids is the perfect place to explore art, have fun and learn. You can spend days on this site; never get bored and never see everything!



Ms. Debbie and her awesome team of library clerks at the Wayne County library can’t wait to help you find one or 60 plus books about Matisse and his work. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

Matisse : the king of color  - by Anholt, Laurence

Henri Matisse : drawing with scissors  - by O'Connor, Jane.

The iridescence of birds : a book about Henri Matisse -  by MacLachlan, Patricia

 Colorful dreamer : the story of artist Henri Matisse - by Parker, Marjorie Blain

Iridescent -

displaying a play of lustrous colors like those of the rainbow.

When Henri opened the box,

he fell in love the colors at once!