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Henri Matisse created work that always elicited strong, often hostile, critical reaction and lead to a very unflattering nickname during his lifetime.

Portrait of Henri Matisse, 1913
Portrait of Henri Matisse, 1913

Known for his bold use of color, Henri Matisse became one of the central figures in the history of twentieth-century modernism. Born in northern France, Matisse first went to Paris in 1887 to study law, though he soon found painting to be his true passion.

After completing courses at the École des Beaux-Arts, he created canvases that always elicited strong, often hostile, critical reaction.  In his day he was scathingly referred to as “an apostle of ugliness.”

By the first years of the twentieth century, some artists, including Matisse, were producing color experiments so bold that the critics described the artists as Fauves, or wild beasts. Painted when the artist was just beginning to garner attention for his work, The Palace, Belle Île reveals Matisse already abandoning his Post-Impressionist manner for the vivid and at times arbitrary color relationships that would characterize his Fauve style.

Matisse went to Belle Île, off the coast of Brittany, in 1897 to visit his friend, John Peter Russell, an Australian artist.  Russell had introduced him to the work of Vincent Van Gogh, whose powerful and symbolic use of color was inspiring so many artists in the 1890s. At Belle Isle in 1897, Matisse began to develop a new color theory.

In this dynamic shoreline view where land, sea, and a boat merge in radiant color relationships, we see Matisse taking the first steps toward transforming the art of the next century.

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