Henri’s Woman with a Hat: What’s the Controversy Behind It?

a cover photo of woman with a hat painting

Doesn’t Woman with a Hat look like the most enthralling artwork?

It does, right?

Bright, contrasting colors and the subject being beautifully portrayed add a wow factor to its composition.

But do you know it caused a stir at the Paris exhibition in 1905? Which made it face rejection with a heavy dose of remarks and criticism.

The reasons behind it were many, but the way Matisse depicted the female figure appalled many, including art critics and his own audience.

But why? Was it because the female figure was portrayed in multiple unnatural and bright hues?

If yes, does that imply that using bright colors back then was prohibited?

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Whether it’s about knowing how Woman with a Hat became a controversial piece or lit the flame for the modern movement, we have everything covered!

Before that, let’s learn who Henri was and how he was associated with Fauvism, which led him to conceptualize the Woman with a Hat painting!

About Henri Matisse

Famous French artist Henri Matisse was the sole creator of Woman with a Hat.

a photo of Woman with a hat's artist Henri Matisse
Image: Wikipedia

Born on 31st December, 1869, Henri Matisse was a law student who worked his way through to become an artist. 

His mother, Anna Heloise Matisse, was his constant support who pushed him to  pursue a career in art, and she too was a local painter.

Under the guidance of Gustave Moreau and John Russell, Henri Matisse learned art and produced diversified art ranging from still life to Impressionism.

Pablo was his contemporary—with whom, along with Duchamp, he later contributed to the development of plastic arts in the early 20th century

His love for colors grew at an exponential pace. Thus, that led him to find interest in post impressionism, and eventually form an art movement called Fauvism, with Woman with a Hat being its first piece of art.

An Overview of Woman with a Hat

PainterHenri Matisse
Creation Date1905
Medium Oil on canvas
Art movement associated with Fauvism
Dimensions80.65 cm × 59.69 cm
LocatedSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Composition and Technique

Matisse’s fauvist art depicts Amelie in a half portrait in bold and contrasting colors.

Her features are evident, which consist of modern, arched eyebrows, almond eyes, and a pointed nose with a chiseled jawline.

a closer shot of Henri's woman with a hat
Image: Wikipedia

Although her expressions are serious, it’s unfair to say she isn’t a good looking woman.

If you look down—starting from the neck to the bottom—you’ll notice disproportionate amounts of color being used. 

Her outfit is one of the bourgeoisie types.

Amelie’s overall appearance, which includes an accompanying fan, a black glove in her right hand, and a stick, possesses the characteristics of portrait painting.

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(Also Read: Matisse’s Dance Painting)

Colors and Textures

Matisse’s hat painting showed a woman in a standing position covered in an intermixed color scheme of red, orange, and yellow, with black being the most prominent hue.

Her face received a proportionate amount of color, unlike her body, starting from the chest to the bottom.

Although Matisse was a contemporary of Picasso, he was heavily influenced by Van Gogh’s and Cezanne’s styles.

When Matisse exhibited Woman with a Hat at the Autumn Salon in 1905, its jury, Francis Jourdain, left a comment implying that art is too modernistic.

Matisse’s vigorous and expressive use of brushstrokes divided Fauvist art into two: face as one part and the hat and the portion below the neck as the other part.

Which is why femme au chapeau art focuses more on colors than accurate depictions, expressing emotions with bright colors rather than traditional representational technique.

(Suggested: Figurative Art)

Why Was a Woman With a Hat Controversial?

Woman with a Hat went through trouble and disagreements because Henri decided to be original rather than an imitator.

His art wasn’t similar to that displayed in the Paris Salon in 1905. Which appalled the jury from the Salon and various art critics. 

It was hung in a room next to Donatello’s Renaissance sculpture, which was more traditional.

Discovering the news of Henri’s Woman with a Hat being hung next to Donatello’s work angered art critics Camille Mauclair and Louis Vauxcelles. Who went further and wrote mean stuff about Henri’s Woman with a Hat.  

Louis even left a comment, “Donatello among the wild beasts,” that went to print news, raising several questions!

Henri’s art, despite using bright colors, appeared more realistic. But conservatives at that point used to run the Salon d’Automne, which wanted art to be more impressionistic.

Matisse never thought of how the jury would react to his art and focused on keeping it more expressive, which is why he used bight and unnatural colors in the Woman with a Hat artwork.

Unfortunately, it received hate and backlash in abundance and was even seen as an insult to art because it didn’t possess the proper use of lines and pleasant looking colors that were very common.


Matisse conceptualized this Fauvist art for a different reason, but unfortunately, his intention was misinterpreted, and due to that, his art had to go through several setbacks.

He was being expressive and cared little about what people would think of his art when they saw it.

Thus, that brought criticism, hatred, and condemnation toward the art.

But as time went on, modern art began gaining momentum and became prominent.   

Thanks to Sarah and Michael Stein, who carried Matisse’s art to San Francisco, where it was later sold to the Haas family—whose family member, Elise S. Haas, bequeathed it to the museum.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who created the Woman with a Hat painting?

Henri Matisse was the creator of the painting Woman with a Hat.

Which art exhibition rejected the Henri’s Woman with a Hat?

Salon d’Automne from 1905 rejected Henri’s fauvist hat art because it had too many bright colors and was ridiculously modernistic in nature.

Which art movement does Femme au chapeau belong to?

Matisse’s Woman with a Hat a.k.a Femme au chapeau belonged to the Fauvism art movement.

Who was the subject in Matisse’s hat artwork?

Matisse painted his wife Amelie in Woman with a Hat, who was also a part-time model.

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