The Joy of Life

Henri Matisse, The Joy of Life (1905-1906). Source: Yale Digital Resources Collection. Accession number: 250822.

By Pericles Lewis


Like the poet W. B. Yeats, the painter Henri Matisse found in dance and dancers a source of inspiration for his work, which sought to achieve rhythmic effects similar to those of the dance, as in Joy of Life (“Le Bonheur de vivre”; 19056). Here, the joy of lovemaking, piping, and dancing infuses the colors and rhythmic shapes of the canvas. Matisse was one of a number of artists exhibiting in Paris in 1905 who were labeled “Fauves,” or wild beasts, for their use of vivid color contrasts, their foreshortening of perspective, and the unfinished appearance of their paintings. Paintings like Joy of LIfe inspired the expressionist current in twentieth-century art, which celebrated the body. Matisse’s friend Pablo Picasso took a more ascetic view of the human body and Picasso’s sense of art as a demanding form, expressing anguish rather than joy, had the greater influence on modernist aesthetics.[1]

  1. ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), p. 73.