Art History Lab

Becoming a Wild Beast: Henri Matisse’s Journey to Fauvism

Henri Matisse is one of the most renowned artists of the 20th century, known for his vibrant use of color and innovative style. Despite facing criticism early on in his career, Matisse went on to create some of the most iconic art pieces of his time.

One of his well-known works, Woman with a Hat, received a scathing review from Leo Stein, which we will discuss in this article. Who was Henri Matisse?

Henri Matisse was born on December 31, 1869, in Le Cateau-Cambrsis, France. He grew up in a middle-class family and was a shy child who loved to draw.

His father wanted him to study law, but Matisse had a passion for art. He moved to Paris in 1891 to study art at the Acadmie Julian and later at the cole des Beaux-Arts.

However, it was his time as Gustave Moreau’s student that had a significant impact on his painting style. Moreau taught Matisse the importance of color and encouraged him to break free from traditional styles of painting.

Matisse also drew inspiration from his time spent in the artistic community of Paris, where he came across different styles like Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. He was particularly influenced by the work of John Russell, an Australian painter, who introduced him to the work of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Czanne.

These encounters with different styles of painting sparked Matisse’s interest in experimenting with new forms of art. Leo Stein’s Critique of Woman with a Hat

In 1905, Matisse painted Woman with a Hat, an oil on canvas painting that featured his wife, Amlie Parayre.

The painting depicted Amelie wearing an extravagant hat, surrounded by a background of bright, bold colors. While the painting is now considered one of Matisse’s finest pieces, it received a harsh review from Leo Stein, an American writer and art critic.

Stein saw the painting as a complete departure from traditional styles of painting, which he deemed chaotic and confusing. He wrote, “These works are the result of a diseased mind….

It is difficult to give the impression of the confusion that reigns supreme in the head of this artist who seeks to make things of beauty represent nothing but deformity.” Stein’s critique did little to deter Matisse, who went on to become one of the foremost painters of his time.


In conclusion, Henri Matisse’s contributions to the art world cannot be overstated. He was a master of color, and his work continues to inspire artists all over the world.

Even though he faced criticism early on in his career, he refused to let it stop him. Matisse’s innovative style and bold use of color set him apart from other artists of his time and remain relevant today.

Woman with a Hat (1905) by Henri Matisse in Context

Overview of the Fauvism Art Movement

Henri Matisse, along with Andr Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, was a key member of the Fauvism art movement that emerged in the early 1900s. Fauvism, which originated in Paris, was characterized by a bold use of color and an emphasis on individual expression.

The movement was born in 1905, when Matisse and his colleagues exhibited their paintings at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. The Fauves, as they were known, shocked the art world with their vibrant and daring use of color, which stood in stark contrast to the more muted tones of previous art movements such as Impressionism.

The Fauves’ goal was to use color as a primary means of expression, conveying emotion and intuition rather than representing reality accurately. Fauvism also focused on experimentation with form and a rejection of traditional techniques.

The Public and Critical Reactions to Woman with a Hat

Matisse’s painting, Woman with a Hat, was first exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in 1905 alongside many other Fauvist works. Matisse’s painting was considered the most daring piece of the exhibition, and its bold use of color, coupled with the freedom of brushstrokes, shocked even some Fauve painters.

The painting was also a significant departure from traditional styles of painting, which contributed to the public’s polarized reaction to the work. Art critic Louis Vauxcelles was one of the first to describe Matisse’s painting as Fauvism.

At the exhibition, Vauxcelles saw the painting and exclaimed, “Donatello chez les fauves!” (“Donatello among the wild beasts!”). The reference was to the contrasting colors in the painting, which Vauxcelles saw as similar to the colors on a sculpture by Donatello.

While the painting was initially met with a lot of criticism, it slowly gained popularity and became one of Matisse’s most celebrated works. Some critics, such as Camille Mauclair, praised the painting for its dynamic use of color and the way it departed from the traditional styles of painting.

Formal Analysis: A Brief Compositional Overview

Visual Description: Subject Matter

Woman with a Hat depicts Matisse’s wife, Amlie Parayre, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a vibrant green dress. She is sitting on a chair in front of a colorful, abstract background, while gazing directly at the viewer.

Her pose is relaxed, but her facial expression shows her to be in deep thought.


Matisse’s use of color in Woman with a Hat is characterized by bold, contrasting tones. The green of the dress and the orange, red, and yellow of the background create a vivid array of colors.

The use of complementary colors is particularly striking, with the green of the dress contrasting with the red and yellow of the background.

Texture and Brushwork

Matisse’s brushwork is rapid and free in Woman with a Hat. The brushstrokes are broad and energetic, giving the painting its characteristic dynamic quality.

The clothing of the subject is painted in thick, impasto layers that create a tangible physical presence for the viewer.

Line, Form, and Shape

Matisse’s lines are strong and flexible, adapting to the different areas of the painting.

The contours of the subject are drawn with thick, bold lines, which are in contrast to the thin lines that define the background. The forms and shapes in the painting are highly stylized and are intended to give the painting a sense of decorative pattern.


The painting has a sharply contrasting effect between the foreground and the background. The subject is placed against a colorful, abstract background, which gives the painting its characteristic depth.

The background extends beyond the subject to create a sense of infinite space.

In conclusion, Henri Matisse’s Woman with a Hat is a testament to the possibilities of individual expression in art.

Despite receiving a scathing review from an art critic, it has become one of Matisse’s most celebrated works, thanks to its use of vivid colors, energetic brushstrokes, and stylized forms. The painting represents a significant milestone in the development of Fauvism, and it alludes to the direction modern art would take in the coming years.

Wild Beasts at Play

Acquisition and Significance of Woman with a Hat

Woman with a Hat, created by Henri Matisse in 1905, is an oil on canvas painting that has now become an important symbol in the world of art. The painting was originally owned by Gertrude Stein, the famed author and collector of radical art.

Her brother Leo Stein was also an art collector and critic who initially did not appreciate Matisse’s work. Despite Leo’s reservations, Gertrude Stein saw the value of the painting, and it eventually became one of her most prized possessions.

The painting was later acquired by Sarah Stein, Michael Stein, and Michael’s wife, Sarah’s friend, Elise Sartorius. After the painting changed several hands, it was finally acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where it is still on display today and continues to attract an awe-inspiring audience.

The painting is significant because it characterizes the Fauvism movement, which was a revolutionary style of art that marked a formal break from traditional painting.

Matisses Exploration of Different Styles and Techniques

Henri Matisse’s Woman with a Hat demonstrates his exploration of different styles of painting and techniques. Matisse experimented with a variety of artistic methods throughout his life, changing his style at various points to accommodate his evolving vision and influences.

Matisse was initially exposed to Neo-Impressionistic Pointillism, which was a style of painting that used small dots of color that created an overall image. Matisse was intrigued by the method but found it too limiting for his style of expressive and emotive painting.

He went on to create a series of works called Luxe, Calme, et Volupt, a group of paintings that employed broken, more decorative patterns allowing the interplay of light and shadow to take center stage.

Fauvism and Matisses Artistic Oeuvre

Fauvism was born out of a desire to experiment with color and form and to move away from convention and tradition. The term “Fauvism” came from art critic Louis Vauxcelles after seeing one of Matisse’s paintings.

He declared that “Donatello chez les fauves!” (“Donatello among the wild beasts!”), inspiring the name of the movement. During the early 1900s, Matisse created a painting series called “wild beasts,” which has come to signify the early Fauvist spirit and energy.

Fauvism was a reaction to the changing landscape of art and culture, as artists began to explore new ways of creating and expressing themselves. Matisse’s work is unique in that it evolves over time, becoming more abstract, stylized, and daring as he experiments with different techniques and motifs.

His later works, such as the cut-outs, are a testament to the transformative power of individual expression.

Frequently Asked Questions

Henri Matisse and Woman with a Hat

Henri Matisse created Woman with a Hat in 1905. The painting is perhaps one of Matisse’s best-known works, representing a new style of painting that came to be known as Fauvism.

Importance of Woman with a Hat by Henri Matisse

Woman with a Hat is essential because it is an illustration of the Fauvism movement, which rejected traditional modes of expression and sought to represent emotions through brilliant colors, forms, and rhythms.

Location of Woman with a Hat by Henri Matisse

The painting Woman with a Hat by Henri Matisse is currently located at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where it is open for public viewing. It has become one of the most important paintings of the 20th century, gaining both critical and popular recognition as a symbol of Matisse’s innovation and artistic vision.

In conclusion, Woman with a Hat by Henri Matisse holds great significance in the art world. As a prime example of Fauvism, this bold and vibrant painting challenged traditional styles and techniques, marking a turning point in the landscape of art.

Its acquisition and journey through various collectors highlight its importance and allure. Matisse’s exploration of different styles and techniques, including his foray into Neo-Impressionistic Pointillism, showcases his artistic evolution and willingness to push boundaries.

Ultimately, Woman with a Hat stands as a testament to the transformative power of individual expression and the enduring influence of Fauvism on the art world. It serves as a reminder that embracing innovation and taking risks can lead to stunning and timeless creations.

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