Matisse considered his drawing to be a very intimate means of expression. The method of artistic execution — whether it was charcoal, pencil, crayon, etcher’s burin, lithographic tusche or paper cut — varied according to the subject and personal circumstance. His favorite subjects were evocative or erotic — the female form, the nude figure or a beautiful head of a favorite model. Other themes relate to the real or imagined world of both Oceania and the Caribbean — the lagoons, the coral and the faces of beautiful women from these far-off lands. Matisse worked in various mediums simultaneously—sometimes setting one aside for years, taking it up again when a particular technique offered the possibility of a desired result.
Matisse’s etchings and drypoints were executed on a small scale with linear fluidity, giving them a sense of immediacy and spontaneity, like pages in a sketchbook. Alternately, his lithographs were on a larger scale and made grander statements. These lithographs exploited the tonal possibilities of the medium that allowed Matisse to achieve effects of volume and depth.
Matisse is highly regarded as a painter, of course, but he was also a dedicated draftsman and print maker. In the graphic arts, he produced over 800 prints in a range of techniques, from woodcuts to lithography and etching. ‘He believed an artist should pursue multiple, creative approaches,’ says Adam McCoy, Vice President of the Prints department at Christie’s in New York.
‘People, understandably, praise Matisse as a master of color, but what his prints prove is that he could work just as expressively — and with just as much versatility — in black and white.’
Henri Matisse is widely regarded as the greatest colorist of the 20th century and as a rival to Pablo Picasso in the importance of his innovations. He emerged as a Post-Impressionist, and first achieved prominence as the leader of the French movement Fauvism. Although interested in Cubism, he rejected it, and instead sought to use color as the foundation for expressive, decorative, and often monumental paintings. As he once controversially wrote, he sought to create an art that would be "a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair." Still life and the nude remained favorite subjects throughout his career; North Africa was also an important inspiration, and, towards the end of his life, he made an important contribution to collage with a series of works using cut-out shapes of color. He is also highly regarded as a sculptor.