From the moment I held the box of colours in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.
Henri Emile Benoît Matisse was born in a tiny, tumbledown weaver’s cottage on the rue du Chêne Arnaud in the textile town of Le Cateau-Cambrésis at eight o’clock in the evening on the last night of the year, 31 December 1869 (in the extreme north of France). His ancestors had lived in the area for centuries, before the social and industrial upheavals of the nineteenth century. Matisse grew up in a world that was still detaching itself from a way of life in some ways unchanged since Roman times.
Matisse’s career can be divided into several periods that changed stylistically, but his underlying aim always remained the same: to discover “the essential character of things” and to produce an art “of balance, purity, and serenity,” as he himself put it.