Henri Matisse, the celebrated French painter, sculptor, draftsman, and printmaker, was a master of color and line. Born into generations of weavers in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, a northern French town known for its wool mills, Matisse was raised in nearby Bohain, known for its luxury fabrics. These early influences would shape his visual language, as he drew inspiration from textiles that he would later collect from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
Matisse’s love for art began after he studied law, leading him to become a student of the Symbolist Gustave Moreau and later participate in Paris’s official Salons. He had a creative breakthrough during the summers of 1904 and 1905, spending time in the South of France, where the bright sunlight inspired him to create optically dynamic works of bright, clashing colors. These works would lead to Matisse and a group of artists being derided with the epithet “fauves,” or wild beasts. Known as Fauvism, the work from this period set him on a career-long path that he described as “construction by colored surfaces.”
Matisse’s approach and style remained central to his body of work, from his abstracted paintings of the 1910s to the decorative, sunlit interiors of his “Nice period” during the 1920s to the innovative cut-outs of his later years. Despite the apparent ease of his work – whether an ink drawing with a flowing arabesque line or a painting with flat expanses of unmodulated color – Matisse cautioned that this effect was only an “apparent simplicity.” In reality, he worked meticulously to achieve his dream of “the art of balance, of purity and serenity.”
Throughout his life, Matisse found solace and inspiration in the company of animals, particularly cats and doves. He had a particular love for cats and had several feline companions throughout his life, including Minouche, Coussi, and La Puce the black cat, who reportedly had an “M” for Matisse on his forehead. Matisse would feed his cats pieces of brioche every morning, something that may not have been in their best interest but certainly showed his affection for them. Cats appear in several of Matisse’s works, including Marguerite with a Black Cat (1910) and Interior with Goldfish (1914).
Matisse’s love for cats even extended to his personal life, as he often posed with his feline companions for photographs. One image, taken in Nice, shows Matisse with his beloved cat Minouche, who perches on his shoulder while he paints. These photographs and the presence of cats in his works suggest that Matisse found comfort in the playful, independent nature of cats and perhaps saw parallels between their freedom and his own approach to art.
In Marguerite with a Black Cat, Matisse captures the essence of the relationship between cats and humans. The painting depicts a woman sitting in a chair, with a black cat perched on her lap. The simplicity of the composition and the soft, warm colors used make the scene seem peaceful and tranquil. The woman is completely focused on the cat, who looks content in her lap. Matisse captures the bond between the two perfectly, making it evident that the artist was not only a master of color and line but also of emotion.
Interior with Goldfish (1914) is another work by Matisse that features cats. In this painting, Matisse shows a luxurious interior with a vase of flowers, a patterned couch, and vibrant goldfish swimming in a bowl. Two cats are pictured lounging in the space, with one curled up on the couch and the other perched on a windowsill. The addition of the cats to the scene gives the painting a sense of warmth and homey comfort that balances the ornate decor.
Another artist, Deborah Julian, has been inspired by Matisse’s work and cats, creating a painting that is a tribute to Matisse’s Interior with Goldfish. In her version of the painting, Julian has added more cats to the scene, giving the work a playful touch. The cats seem to imbue the scene with a sense of happiness, and their presence makes the painting seem alive with movement and energy.
In conclusion, Henri Matisse was not only a master of modern art but also a lover of cats. His felinity found expression in many of his works of art, and his companionship with these animals was evident in the joy and comfort they brought him. These cats, and the love that Matisse had for them, can be seen in pieces like Marguerite with a Black Cat and Interior with Goldfish, which capture the essence of the relationship between cats and humans. Matisse’s legacy lives on as a painter who captured the beauty and simplicity of life, and his love for cats demonstrates how the companionship of animals can bring a sense of happiness to our lives.