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Woman With a Hat by Henri Matisse: A Masterpiece of Fauvism

Woman with a Hat

Woman with a Hat and Henri Matisse | Source: Succession H. Matisse / ARS, New York & Via Wikimedia Commons

The most crucial aspect of Matisse’s artwork is his versatility, intellect, intelligence, and diligent and adventurous curiosity portrayed with the bash of colours on the canvas. There is a richness of his resources, his ability to look at things from the perspective of other painters and his freedom of style and not falling into academician or eclecticism in his artworks, which make them way too broad and beautiful for the modern era. For instance, if you look closer at the paintings of Henri Matisse, you will notice his spectacular command of colours and ability to put down his imagination on the canvas without stumbling or faltering, such that you just see the best versions. Hence, today we are here to celebrate his one of the most famous paintings, Woman with a Hat, standing out in the series of artworks.

General Information.

1. Artist’s Statement.

“You study, you learn, but you guard the original naïveté. It has to be within you, as a desire for drink is within the drunkard, or love is within the lover.”

2. Subject Matter.

The subject matter of the painting consists of a woman with a hat, who is none other than Henri’s wife, Amelie. The half-length portrait shows an elaborate outfit with classic French bourgeoisie, including a gloved arm and an elaborate hat perched topping her head. In addition, it showed different colours on her dress, symbolising expressionism in the composition.

Henri Matisse’s Woman with a Hat | Source: Succession H. Matisse / ARS, New York

3. Artist.

Henri Matisse, one of the undisputed masters of the 20th century, painted the illustration, Woman with a Hat. He was a french artist who was a draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor but is widely recognised for his exceptional command of colours on canvas. Along with Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, Matisse is one of the three artists who helped define revolutionary development in the plastic artisan in the 20th century.

Henri Matisse | Source: Old Chum / Flickr

4. Date.

The artwork dates back to the early twentieth century, 1905.

5. Provenance.

We don’t know why Henri painted the artwork, but we do know the incidences of the year when the composition was created. So, the illustration dates back to 1905, when Matisse’s career gradually faced a turning point. In the Spring Salon, Luxe, Calme et Volupté exhibited when Matisse was confirmed to be a leader among contemporary artists. During this time, he came back to Paris and kept on a roll, and his wife posed for Woman with the Hat. I will let you know about the entire events of the composition in later sections.

6. Location.

The artwork was acquired by SFMOMA in 1991. Currently, it is in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, New York.

7. Technique and Medium.

Henri Matisse, commonly known as Fauves, expressed emotion with wildness through dissonant colours irrespective of the subject’s natural colour. The painting is oil on canvas with a Fauvism style. Critic Louis Vauxcelles said about the artwork,

“Donatello au milieu des fauves!” (Donatello among the wild beasts).

ArtworkFemme au chapeau (Woman with a Hat)
ArtistHenri Matisse
Year Painted1905
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions80.65 x 59.69 cm
WorthNot on sale
Where is it housed?Collection SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), Bequest of Elise S. Haas

Woman With a Hat | Fast Knowledge

Woman With a Hat (French: La femme au chapeau) is a 1905 half-length portrait by Henri Matisse. Subjecting the artist’s decorating style and expressionism grab, it portrays Amelie, Henri’s wife, in a classic French bourgeoisie look. The time when Henri painted this, he was experimenting with colors, forming some of the most remembered works.

I have already filled you with the crispiest general information about the illustration in this section, but of course that’s not all it. To be intelligent, you have to read the entire analysis diligently. So let’s start reading about the painting deeply.

In-Depth Description of the Painting.

About the Artist: Who was Henri Matisse?

Once, one of the collectors asked Matisse how long it took him to render some extravagantly expensive work which consisted of just a few breezy lines, to which he replied,

“A Lifetime.”

Little do we know about this single word is that the art of Matisse though extremely simple looking is an established master of modern art, whose work inspired every single legend and scholar. In his compositions, we saw the most conventional studio subjects with lovely poses, flowers, and exceptional interiors with modern colour and design. He once explained in an interview why he was not a bohemian,

“Oh, do tell the American people that I am a normal person, that I am a devoted husband and father, that I have three fine children, that I go to the theatre, ride horseback, have a comfortable home, a fine garden that I love, flowers, etc., just like any man.”

Born on 31 December 1869 in Le Cateau-Cambresis, Nord, France, Henri grew up in Bohain-en-Vermandois, Picardy, where his parents ran a flower business. At the beginning of his career, in 1887, he went to Paris to study law and worked as a court administrator in Le Cateau-Cambrésis after getting qualified with a degree. In 1889, Henri started to paint just after his mother brought him art supplies at the time of convalescence, following an attack of appendicitis. And during those days, he decided to be a painter, which deeply disappointed his father. So in 1891, Matisse returned to Paris to study at Académie Julian and started training under William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Gustave Moreau. Initially, he painted still-lifes, landscapes and other traditional paintings, where he achieved moderately good proficiency. Soon after, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Nicolas Poussin, Antoine Watteau, modern artists such as Edouard Manet, and Japanese art inspired and influenced him.

Self Portrait in a Striped T-shirt by Henri Matisse | Source: Succession H. Matisse / ARS, New York

He started painting while including Caroline Joblau as a model. He also had a daughter Marguerite, born in 1894, with her, but lastly, he married Amélie Noellie Parayre. Both of them lovingly raised Marguerite. Finally, the couple was blessed with two sons, Jean and Pierre. The crucial inspiration behind the artworks of Henri was Marguerite and Amelie several times. Now, after you know the artist’s background and life, let us move to the artwork’s provenance.

History and Background of the Artwork.

The year 1905 was the turning point in Matisse’s career when there was the Spring Salon exhibition, and Matisse proved to be a leader among all the contemporary artists. When he returned to the Mediterranean for the summer with his family after spending the event, his new colleague Andre Derain joined him. During this time, he started experimenting with colours and styles for the paintings, and as a result, he formed Woman Beside the Water (La Japonaise), a study of Amelie in a figured kimono, The Roofs of Collioure showing the radiant-pigment of the tiles and the Open Window showing luscious strokes over the walls and windows. At this time, when he returned to Paris after his well-spent time with family, he kept Amelie as his subject for Woman with the Hat.

La Japonaise Woman beside the Water Collioure by Henri Matisse | Source: 2023 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Department
A study of Amelie in a figured Kimono by Henri Matisse | Source: Jonathan Lurie / Flickr
The Roofs of Collioure by Henri Matisse | Source: Via Wikmedia Commons
Open Window, Collioure by Henri Matisse | Source: National Gallery of Art, The United States

Now, when he showed the painting to Leo Stein, a collector in the infamous Fall Salon of 1905, his first reaction was,

“the nastiest smear of paint.”

Similarly, on the occasion, critic Louis Vaxcelles named this new style showcasing the pity for it,

“Ah, Donatello amongst the Fauves.”

Now, let me give you a brief account of Fauvism so that you understand the painting. Fauve is a French word meaning wild beast. When you consider the first avant-garde art movement of the 20th century, Fauvism was really short-lived, from 1905 to 1908. The movement was a liberation from Realism and implicit in the Post-Impressionist work of Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin. There is an extraordinary use of colours in the main line describing and expressing emotional, spatial and decorative effects. It brought supreme confidence through the rhythmic colour palette on the canvas. If you look closer at the canvases of this time, you will observe that there is a certain kind of excitement or brutality in them. Now, after you understand much more about the period, let us move towards learning the subject matter of the painting.

Looking at the Subject Matter and Elements of the Painting.

The subject matter of the illustration is the half-length portrait of a woman with a hat, piled sky-high with bizarre decorations. Furthermore, there is a classic French bourgeoisie look, including a gloved arm of her. Further, Henri painted her in a vibrant costume, which shows his expressionism on the canvas. What we see here is the intelligence of Matisse through his interests in a primarily decorative way through colours, attempting to little or no revelation of profound human values or significant plastic values.

Woman with a Hat by Henri Matisse | Source: Succession H. Matisse / ARS, New York

Let me take you to the formal analysis of the painting.

Formal Analysis of Woman with a Hat by Henri Matisse.

1. Line.

In the composition, Matisse strongly highlighted the boundary of the subject through a rhythmic and irregular black line. It shows a boldness in the illustration, separating every single object from the other. Further, there is the presence of contour lines which gives an essential quality of atmosphere and solidity to the elements inside the woman’s hat and her body structure. If you carefully notice the composition, you will find the area lines of contrasting colours displayed by the artist by narrow strips of hues or bare canvas and by broad linear areas of colour. There is more about patchwork and brush strokes in the composition.

2. Space.

The composition shows an exotic colour pattern where the space functions chiefly as areas of bizarre colour. If you look closer at the illustration, its spatial effect looks like a non-realistic one with positive distortion of space to attain novelty in decoration. The hat of the woman looks as if it holds a few still-life objects and intervals between them, appearing to merge in the pattern of the background.

3. Light.

Matisse used the general function of light in his works by heightening colours and giving a vividness, power and occasional specific effects of delicacy. Here, in this illustration, he used a coloured light forming patterns of spots and areas, organically relating to the composition in light and shadow. Further, he used it as an element of decorative motifs, looking as if “islands”, heightening the decorative effect of the objects.

Black and White version of Woman with a Hat

4. Colour.

Matisse used numerous colours in the composition, from the lilac face highlights to the forest green and lemon yellow on the background. There is an extraordinary use of darker and lighter navy blue over the hat, and the vernacular red, heightening the dilemma of the entire composition.

Why the Painting Created a Scandal?

When Matisse began working on the landscape, he didn’t believe he would be able to finish it. As such, this painting was created in some haste. When his colleagues and salon president saw the piece, they encouraged him not to exhibit it, fearing that he would embarrass himself by showing it. Nevertheless, he did it. There was a harsh critical reaction to this painting, and Louis Vauxcelles, one of the critics, called it a “wild beast“, referring to it and others by Matisse’s colleagues as “le Fauve“.

Hence, the painting was quite a disgrace for the fact.

Observations and Conclusion.

As we came across Henri Matisse’s artworks, we saw his unprecedented use of colours through simplicity, an art which gives you clarity. The painting, Woman with A Hat, though controversial through its bold and odd style, became one of the most popular and worthy paintings of the modern era to date.


1. Henri Matisse by John Jacobus.

2. The Art of Henri-Matisse by Albert C. Barnes and Violette de Mazia.

3. Henri Matisse: 64 paintings by Lawrence Gowing.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Why did Henri Matisse paint Woman with a Hat?

There is no evidence on why Henri Mattise painted Woman with a Hat, but it is one of the first artworks the artist drew after he proved to be a leader of contemporary art in the Spring Salon, 1905.

Why is the Woman with a Hat important?

Woman with a hat became one of the first artworks to display a new style of Fauvism and exhibited Henri Matisse’s use of eye-pleasing colours and a range of different brushstrokes. While the present generation adores his technique and artworks, critics of the time called the Woman with a Hat monstrous.

What is the description of Woman with a Hat?

Woman with a Hat is a half-length portrait of Henri’s wife Amelie wearing an elaborate outfit consisting of gloves and a hat topping her head. The artist used different brushstrokes to exhibit this portrait which displays the use of expressionism in his work.

How much is Woman with a Hat by Henri Matisse worth?

Woman with a Hat by Henri Matisse is considered priceless, knowing that it would never come at an auction. However, if we were to estimate the value of Henri Matisse’s art, one of his paintings grabbed $80.7 Million at a Christie’s auction in 2018, making it the highest-valued art of Henri Matisse, which will reach a higher amount.

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