Sophie Matisse was born in Boston on February 13, 1965, and was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, having what's been described as a "hippie childhood." Her father is the sculptor Paul Matisse, whose grandfather was Henri Matisse. Sophie makes no secret of "serious" dyslexia in her youth, which she remedied through creative pursuits.
Sophie Matisse began studies at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, in 1985, but dropped out after her first year. In 1990 she relocated to Paris and attended École des Beaux-Arts, the same institution where great-grandfather Henri Matisse had studied. During her time there, she also bought supplies at the same art-supply store where Henri had shopped.
Sophie lived with her grandmother Alexina in France for a time, who, after divorcing Pierre Matisse, had also married the French painter Marcel Duchamp (Duchamp died in 1968). Studies at École des Beaux-Arts were not easy for Sophie; not only facing imposed expectations of being an art student in France named "Matisse," but also as being an American lacking proficiency in reading and writing French. After three years facing such struggles at the school, Sophie was asked to leave. She did, however, meet the French artist Alain Jacquet while at École des Beaux-Arts, whom she would marry in 1992.
In 1996, Sophie Matisse moved to New York City, setting up her studio in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood, and soon began exhibiting her artwork. The artist's 1997 painting Monna Lisa (Be Back in Five Minutes) initiated art world interest which would further her career. In the painting, Sophie faithfully replicated the setting of Leonardo da Vinci's original, but omitted Mona Lisa from the scene. It would be the first of what would become her signature Missing Person series.
The Be Back in Five Minutes series gave Sophie Matisse her first widespread exposure as an artist, in her own right, and would inform her work for years thereafter. In these paintings, Sophie would reproduce the recognizable settings of famous paintings, always omitting the figures; as if the models had "stepped out for the moment." Famous works of Vermeer also figured prominently in other early entries to the series; Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, The Art of Painting, and Girl with a Pearl Earring were all reinterpreted by Sophie in the late 1990s, minus the figures portrayed by Vermeer.
Although she had previously participated in group exhibitions in New York and elsewhere, Sophie Matisse's first solo exhibition opened in January 2002, at the gallery which would also continue to represent her in New York, Francis Naumann Fine Art. It was the gallery's first exhibition of Contemporary art. Sophie's Monna Lisa (Be Back in Five Minutes) was featured in this first exhibition along with over twenty others of the artist's "Absentee Paintings."
Among iconic American artworks from which Sophie "removed" the occupants are Grant Wood's American Gothic, in which the pitchfork is left standing alone in the foreground, and Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, in which the diner is replicated devoid of customers and staff. Both of these were painted in 2001. The artwork of Henri Matisse is also among those reinterpreted. Goldfish reproduces the scene as originally portrayed by Henri, minus the goldfish. The Conversation leaves an empty chair by the window.
Artwork from this series would also be assembled for an exhibition titled "Once Removed" at the upstate, New York, Katonah Museum of Art in the summer of 2005.
In 2003, Sophie added Pablo Picasso's Guernica to the number of paintings she would reinterpret. This time, however, the artist believed it to be "foolish" to remove the figures from Guernica. She looked for figural "counterparts" in Matisse's works, towards which she might re-imagine Picasso's figures, but was unable to settle for any. In the end, with some suggestion from respected collaborator Mike Bidlo, Sophie opted to simply "colorize" Picasso's monochromatic "anti-war testament" — a painting to which she had never actually stood "face to face." An additional consideration was to color it in the manner of Henri Matisse; a daring decision for Sophie, given the fact that her great-grandfather and Picasso's "rocky relationship" is common knowledge among art scholars. Instead, this Matisse would follow her own color sensibilities, as opposed to mimicking those of her great-grandfather.
Sophie used acrylics and painted on canvas, testing color combinations by first painting onto photocopies. She kept true to the impact of Picasso's original by painting it large-scale, approximately eight by twenty feet. Her efforts yielded several paintings and various drawings, which culminated in her Sophie Matisse Does Guernica exhibition, early 2003 in New York. One piece, 911 Guernica, uses Guernica as the motif to convey her own first hand experiences witnessing the terrorist attack upon New York's Twin Towers from her neighborhood near the site. Sophie's Guernica exhibition was scheduled to coincide with the Museum of Modern Art's dual survey exhibiting the works of both Picasso and Matisse.
The artist and her "appropriations" faced as much opposition as they did praise, with some critics deriding her "coloring-in" of Picasso by comparing it with the colorization of black and white movies. Art critic Arthur Danto said Sophie Matisse' work "demonstrates why Picasso was right to use black and white and gray, and why Matisse was exactly right never to have attempted to depict violence." Sophie has responded to detractor's accusations by calling it "lazy criticism."
Sophie Matisse in 2003 also participated in a project coordinated by Dodie Kazanjian for Vogue magazine. "Self Portraits: A Vogue Portfolio" appeared in print as a ten-page feature in the December 2003, issue of the magazine. As the title suggests, each artist submitted a "self-portrait." Sophie was featured among other female artists of her generation such as Kiki Smith. Sophie's contribution was a "Missing Person" interpretation of Gustave Courbet's erotic painting The Origin of the World, this time removing the 19th century French painter's graphically portrayed nude model, leaving only the rumpled bedsheets. The completed artworks were exhibited at Deitch Projects SoHo gallery space at the time of publication.
Sophie Matisse began a new series of paintings in the Spring of 2004 which culminated in her third solo exhibition, the "Zebra Stripe Paintings," debuting in New York in the latter months of 2005. Sophie once again appropriated historically significant artworks, this time superimposing her own imagery in the form of "zebra stripes" overlapping the originals. In these paintings, all acrylics and oil on canvas, the appropriated originals are somewhat obscured by the "Zebra Stripes," rendering them less-readily identifiable, and the artist herself has joked that her own dyslexia may have been helpful in creating these works. The series was compared to James Rosenquist's later works, juxtaposing and overlapping seemingly unrelated imagery. Sophie again appropriated one of her great-grandfather's artworks, this time overlaying his Blue Nude with her own imagery constituting the "zebra stripes."
Sophie Matisse has provided artwork in collaboration with business interests and also in support of charitable causes. In 2008, Sophie collaborated with Kilian Hennessy, heir to the Hennessy lineage of cognac makers, providing artwork for a line of fragrances. Sophie added her personal touch to fifty bottles of Kilian perfumes, hand-painting, signing and numbering every bottle and its box. Each of the limited edition creations bore a design unique from the others.
For an exhibition titled "The Art of the Game" coinciding with San Diego's "Beyond the Border International Contemporary Art Fair" of 2009, Sophie Matisse created five chess sets of her own design. Sophie considered her participation "a tribute" to the game's presence within her family in-general and her up-bringing personally.
In 2010, Sophie participated in the New York installment of an international campaign produced by the non-profit group "Sing For Hope." The project called for 60 pianos to be placed in specifically chosen public places around a chosen city, in this case New York City, each first hand-painted by participating artists and amateurs alike. The decorated pianos remained at their specified locations for two weeks in July 2010, with the instructions "Play me, I'm yours" clearly marked and an attendant present to oversee and indulge passersby. Sophie hand-painted four Kimball pianos, all of which had been donated for the cause. Sophie even painting the piano keys. Some, if not all, of Sophie's four were displayed in the lobby of Avery Fisher Hall and Lincoln Center promenade. All 60 pianos were auctioned that fall.
In 1992, when she was 27, Sophie Matisse married French Pop artist Alain Jacquet, who was then 53, whom she had met during her years at École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Alain similarly reworked classic artworks into his own creations, which have been described as "Pop subterfuge." The marriage produced a daughter, Gaia, born in 1993. Sophie and Alain were considered a "perfect couple" by friends and acquaintances, and remained married until Jacquet's death, at age 69, in 2008. Sophie Matisse remarried with Amar Zribi in St. Martin FWI, in 2012.
Sophie's father is the sculptor and inventor Paul Matisse, a Harvard graduate. Her grandfather, Paul's father, was the distinguished Modern art dealer Pierre Matisse, who'd moved to America in the 1920s. Pierre was the youngest child of prominent 20th century painter Henri Matisse, Sophie's great-grandfather.
Henri Matisse died in 1954, aged 85, eleven years before Sophie's birth. Family members expressed concern as to Sophie's use of the "Matisse" name, and in her youth she was discouraged from admitting to be a descendent of her famous great-grandfather. Only by incidentally noticing her family name on museum walls did Sophie come to consider that her great-grandfather may have been someone "exceptional."
Sophie Matisse's step-grandfather was the artist Marcel Duchamp, who famously reinterpreted Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa in his L.H.O.O.Q. by adding a mustache. Duchamp married Sophie's grandmother Alexina "Teeny" Matisse, an American, in 1954 after she and Pierre Matisse divorced. Sophie has cited Duchamp as an influence, once saying "his presence stopped me from getting too serious." Art writers have pointed to the "visual jokes" sometimes apparent in Sophie's own work as a sign of Duchamp's influence.
Sophie Matisse is represented by Francis Naumann Fine Art, LLC, in New York City.