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Henri Matisse: Life, Legacy and Love of Southern France

From the sea to flowers, animals to people, artists find their inspiration all around. For some artists, such as Henri Matisse, it’s a particular region that stirs their creativity. Born in the northern region of Picardy, Matisse blossomed artistically in southern France in the warm sunshine. We’re doing a deep dive into the life and inspiration of Henri Matisse as well as the best Matisse-inspired activities in France.

Henri Matisse: Life, Legacy and Love of Southern France

Matisse’s Biography

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1869, Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse didn’t grow up planning to be an artist; he studied law, per But in his 20s, he started painting and taking drawing classes. Like many artists, such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, he studied art in Paris

Looking at pieces from Matisse, you’ll notice his use of vibrant color and geometric shapes, such as in Icarus and Luxe, Calme et Volupté. He painted, sketched, sculpted, and even designed ballet costumes, according to Winged Canvas

“This 19th-century gospel of work, derived from a middle class, northern French upbringing, was to mark his entire career, and soon it was accompanied by a thoroughly bourgeois appearance—gold-rimmed spectacles; short, carefully trimmed beard; plump, feline body; conservative clothes—which was odd for a leading member of the Parisian avant-garde,” says Roy Donald McMullen in a Britannica article

From bronchitis to appendicitis, Matisse had various health problems but didn’t let them hold him back; he even attached a pencil to a long pole and thus continued to create art, according to

In 1954, he died in Nice and was buried nearby.

Matisse’s Legacy

Kimberleyaeg, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Matisse’s art portfolio has a wide range of techniques, styles and subjects, but he is most often associated with Fauvism. After viewing some of Matisse’s work, “a contemporary art critic mentioned the bold, distorted images painted by certain artists he nicknamed ‘fauves,’ or ‘wild beasts,’” according to And now Matisse is considered the father of Fauvism, per Winged Canvas.

Inspired by artist Paul Signac, he also utilized the pointillism method, according to the Met. In short, this technique is using many dots of color to create the scene. Although he wasn’t an overnight success, Matisse did live to see his art succeed and traveled to showcase his work in New York, Berlin, Moscow and beyond, per Britannica. During his lifetime, Matisse even had a book published about him. Notable art collectors such as Gertrude Stein purchased Matisse’s work, per

Matisse and his Love of Southern France

Nice | French Side Travel | Monaco
Photo by Round Trip Travel

Today many flock to southern France for its sun, sea and sights. Matisse wasn’t any different.

Not only did he come to enjoy its pleasant weather but also to find inspiration for his artwork. He spent time in Corsica, Saint Tropez and Collioure and found inspiration in these sunny destinations, according to Winged Canvas.

In an article for the Met, Magdalena Dabrowski writes, “In the summer of 1904, while visiting his artist friend Paul Signac at Saint-Tropez, a small fishing village in Provence, Matisse discovered the bright light of southern France, which contributed to a change to a much brighter palette.”

He fell in love with the bright hues of southern France so much so that he resettled in Nice in 1921, per Over the years, Matisse stayed in different areas of Nice, including Old Nice and the Cimiez district, according to Nice’s tourism site.

Matisse also had a stint in Vence, a town northwest of Nice. Here he lived in a villa with a large garden and created Nature Morte aux Grenades and the Rosary Chapel with stained glass windows, per Nice Tourism.

Interested in diving even deeper into the life and legacy of Henri Matisse, perhaps in southern France? We’ve rounded up some of our favorite Matisse-themed activities in Nice.

Visit the Matisse Museum in Nice

AlfromLig, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Located in the sunny city of Nice, the Matisse Museum pays homage to its namesake with hundreds of his pieces of artwork. Wander among his sculptures and admire his paintings, all just steps away from his source of inspiration. 

Cooking Class in Matisse’s Workshop

In the old town of Nice, start your day by exploring its markets. Then get to work during your private cooking lesson in Matisse’s workshop. Marvel at the sea view as you get inspired in the kitchen and enjoy your meal in the company of an international opera singer.

Where to Stay in Nice

Hotel du Couvent Nice
Photo courtesy of Hôtel du Couvent

Hôtel du Couvent
This brand new hotel opens in summer in 2024 and will charm you with its 88 rooms in the heart of Old Nice. Treat yourself to a visit to its Roman-inspired thermal spa. Stroll the hotel’s farmer’s market and nosh on the hotel’s farm-to-table dining.

Dreaming of being inspired by Matisse and the landscapes that sparked his creativity, too? You might be interested in: Nature and Culture in Southern France or The Highlights of Corsica in Comfort and Style. Need some help planning your trip?

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