From Fauve colors to Cubist compositions, studio-assisted cut-outs and numerous naked women, few artists have shaped our idea of modernism as much as Henri Matisse.
Born on New Year’s Eve 1869 in the north of France to a grain merchant, he studied to become a lawyer before discovering his love for artmaking at the age of 19. Bedridden after appendicitis, his mother allegedly brought him a set of paints, with which he found “a kind of paradise” that prompted him to abandon his fledgling law career and pursue art.
Ill health plagued Matisse later in life, too; the works in the blockbuster traveling cut-outs exhibition, which landed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last year, came from the artist’s late period, during which his failing health prevented him from painting but allowed him to explore color, space, and form using paper and scissors.
In honor of our favorite Frenchman’s 146th birthday, here are eight of his most inspirational, illuminating, and truly bizarre quotes.
“I do not literally paint that table, but the emotion it produces upon me.”
On art as relaxation:
“What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity…something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.”
On the mighty rose:
“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.”
“Impressionism is the newspaper of the soul.”
On the weight of history:
“A young painter who cannot liberate himself from the influence of past generations is digging his own grave.”
On fitting in:
“It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.”
On truth vs. beauty:
“Never ruin a good painting with the truth.”
“I wouldn’t mind turning into a vermilion goldfish.”