Gauguin’s Influence on Matisse

Paul Gauguin’s art would be admired by countless artists’ following behind him. His influence can be seen in the paintings of the Fauvist artist Henri Matisse.


Gauguin’s art, particularly his paintings done in Tahiti and other Polynesian islands, have been described as Primitivism. They show native women performing everyday tasks, laying on the beach relaxing, or standing in nature. A staple of Gauguin’s art became bright colors that do not necessarily represent the actual colors in nature. He used large blocks of colors, limited shading, and sometimes dark outlines.

Gauguin wrote about his thoughts on art and color saying “How do you see these trees? They are yellow. So, put in yellow; this shadow, rather blue, paint it with pure ultramarine; these red leaves? Put in vermilion” and "I observed the play of shadows and lighting in no way gave a colored equivalent to light ... what could be its equivalent? Pure color! It is our imagination which makes the picture when we confront nature."

These thoughts by Gauguin would have been known to Matisse. The two shared common friends and Matisse saw paintings by Gauguin. Matisse and his fellow artist’s and friends wrote to each other about the influence Gauguin had on them and of Gauguin’s “Radiance.”

Matisse is one of the most well-known and respected painters in the modern art movement. His art has been viewed by millions of museum goers across the world. Matisse’s paintings in the early part of the twentieth century are associated with the Fauvist movement. He used bright colors and often showed women laying in nature. Both his use of color and subject matter show the influence Gauguin had on him. Particularly in Le Bonheur de Vivre and Blue Nude, painted between 1905 and 1907, he draws inspiration from classical poses and the Impressionist painters, but the affect that Gauguin’s art had on him is clearly visible. Beach scenes, tropical trees colored in reds, pinks, and yellows and bright yellow ground seen in these Matisse paintings are all characteristic of Gauguin’s work also. We see these same color combinations in Gauguin’s paintings more two decades before Matisse.

By 1908 Matisse’s style had further expanded upon the ideas he learned from Gauguin’s paintings. His use of color went much further beyond reality showing figures in red or pink, with little shading making them appear flat. Backgrounds became almost solid colors of green and blue, creating patterns more than realistic compositions. Paintings such as The Dance would prove to be a turning point in his career as he moved away from the influence of the Impressionist painters and became a leading figure in the new modern art movement.


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