Matisse’s audacious experimentation with form and color was inseparable from his dedication to an art of harmonious expression, an ambition lost on most of his contemporary viewers. The earliest works in this gallery, small paintings composed of bold strokes of vibrant color made in 1904 and 1905, are among those that led angry critics to label him and his colleagues "les Fauves"—wild beasts.
Brilliant color would nonetheless continue to be one of Matisse’s most important resources, and by 1909 he began to construct compositions featuring flat expanses of vivid tones that saturate the paintings’ surfaces. Matisse radically abbreviated the descriptive elements of his subject matter, sacrificing detail to the overall rhythm and unity of the composition. In his 1908 essay “Notes of a Painter,” he wrote that he dreamed of “an art of balance, or purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter.” Matisse remains one of the great joy-givers of the 20th century.