Henri Matisse

With his figure Icarus - which symbolizes the dream of flight - French artist Henri Matisse created a masterpiece of bright colour using his own special techniques.

Further material for this article.

Henry Matisse - "Icarus"

Artistic painting with the water colour paint box K12

With Pelikan, painting becomes a fascinating experience: No wonder then that our Pelikan water colour paint boxes have been faithful companions to many generations of pupils - not only in art classes, but also at home.

With his figure Icarus - which symbolizes the dream of flight - French artist Henri Matisse created a masterpiece of bright colour using his own special techniques. Pelikan water colour paint boxes will help you and your class achieve colours equally intense.

The original water colour paint box and its bright strong colours make it possible to easily conduct the class subject Icarus in primary or even secondary schools. Very interesting are the vast different creative options that enable a teacher to diversify art classes.

The classical methods of teaching art often de-motivate pupils due to the fashion in which Artists paintings are presented. They often see it as an impossible task to try and copy the original. We would like to suggest a different method: First let the pupils paint and then show them one of Matisse's paintings. The discussion then not only focuses on the main painting, but also the resulting ones from the pupils. The special thing about this method is that the pupil's first experiment using a technique used by the artists in question by creating their own colour effects. Pelikan opaque colours are especially suited for this particular class due to their very intense colour quality.


Required material for the Icarus art class:
Water colour paint box K12, artist pad and a Pelikan paint brush.



How the "Icarus" art class works

First we would like to note that all of the following contents can be combined in a manner of choice. A free creative technique usually gets the best results out of pupils. Assistance should always given were required though.


Steps 2 and 3 can be conducted either as individual or as group work. We will showcase both methods in the following.

  1. Download the patterns and the "Icarus" story off the internet.


  • Present the Icarus figure to the class as a puzzle by handing out copies of the figure and letting the pupils cut out the pieces.
  • Using the different pieces, each pupil can create different figures using the Icarus pieces.

Group work:

  • Present the Icarus figure to your class as a puzzle by presenting cut out pieces on a projector. This enables to show the whole class everything. It would also be possible to hand out copies per group. Each group can then cut them out.
  • The class or group then make new figures using the pieces and then discuss the results.

What to do next:

  • 4. Using a Pelikan water colour paint box and a broad bristle paint brush, the pupils then divide a DIN A3 sheet into three coloured areas (as in picture below)
    - Black: DIN A 4 area for the Icarus figure
    - Yellow for approx. 6 stars
    - Red: for thumbnail sized red dot
  • Using a different DIN A3 sheet the pupils then paint the Blue background. Different shades of Blue can be combined.
Separating the colours on the DIN A3 page
The Pelikan water colour paint box in action. Different shades of Blue can be used for the background.
  1. By copying from the projector or by using the puzzle pieces, the pupils can add their own Icarus puzzles to the prepared Black area. It is best to use strong paper and a pencil.
  2. Show the pupils different star forms by using the downloaded designs. The pupils can then create 6 of their own stars and add them to the Yellow area.
  3. Now the Red dot that is later to be integrated into the picture comes into play. It is approximately the size of a thumbnail and is very important. Matisse used it to symbolise a heart. The Red dot could however have different meanings for the pupils. A discussion can highlight the different aspects of the Red dot:
    1. Meaning (Football/Flower etc.)
    2. Colour effect (Contrast Colour cold/warm)
    3. Appearance (Picture centre/on the edge/on the blue area etc.)
    4. Substitution (Would another colour achieve the same effect?)
  4. All the pieces of the puzzle (Icarus, stars, heart) are cut out. The pupils then place and arrange the different pieces on the Blue DIN A3 area and stick them on. The pupils can then present the results.
  5. Alternatively the Story "The fall of Icarus" could read out at the beginning of class. After this the pupils create the picture using the same guidelines as above. The story can inspire more creativity

Tip: It is important to explain the tasks as clearly as possible! Formulate your own introduction into the subject matter and then use our prepared materials to the equivalent of your classrooms capabilities and limitations. We will later show the different alternative possibilities.

Possible diversification methods

Possible introduction:

  • The different colours are presented at the beginning. Discuss what the class believes can be done with the areas of colour.


  • Instead of using pieces, use the whole Icarus figure.
  • The use of the Red dot can also be used as the basis for a class discussion.


  • The accompanying story is either read as whole or only a part of it is read. After this, the pupils can use the story as inspiration and even make up their own ending.


Possible assignment:

  • An object or figure is to be assembled and stuck onto the Blue coloured area. The different parts of the object are allowed to touch, but not to be stuck on top each other.


  • One of the figures developed by a small group is chosen and stuck on.
  • The stars can be positioned in different areas.
  • The Red dot has to be incorporated into the figure.


Further assignments:

  • Come up with a title for your picture!
  • Think up a story of your own for your picture!


The following example will make the assignment clearer. The following story was written in a classroom regarding a picture that we added to the downloadable material:

"The detective
The fantastic detective was well known for solving every case that he had ever worked on. Due to this, an artist who admired the detective a lot decided to paint a picture of him. The detective is to look like he is thinking through a difficult case on the picture. The artist also added stars in the picture because he just reckons that the detective is simply the best. The artist painted the detective in his own personal form with his pipe, the Red pimple on his cheek and his French hat."


The following material enables many variations of the pictures content. By swapping the stars or by changing the position of the Icarus pieces, the impression of the picture as a whole completely changes.

Changing the order of the pieces or swapping the stars makes the figure look different.

And finally - another pupil's result: The diver


"The diver
On my picture you can see a diver who has been searching for the "Red pearl of truth" for years now. He found an entrance and swam into it. Here he saw what looked like a starry sky. In its centre lied the pearl he had long sought after. After retrieving the pearl he placed it on his necklace. From that day onwards, he never told a lie again."


The fall of Icarus

Daedalos was an ingenious man - architect, artist, engineer and inventor all in one person. His work found the appraisal of all the local folk in the area. One example of his amazing work was when he forged an axe of steel for the people of Athens - a true masterpiece!

With everything going for him he unfortunately could not keep himself out of troubles way. He committed a very serious crime - a murder. This is why one day he had to flee from the city of Athens. Accompanied by his son Icarus, he roamed the land in desperate search of somewhere to hide. He eventually decided to stay on the island known as Crete. Minos, the king who ruled the island welcomed the arrival of the great master. He gave Daedalos the task to create a safe quarters for his hideous monster known as the Minotaur.

Daedalos kept his end of the deal and finished the task given to him by the king. He invented the famous Labyrinth - a garden of confusion. The artist himself almost got completely lost in it. So how was Minotaur ever to find its way out? After years Daedalos and his son Icarus started to feel homesick and longed to be in Athens. They asked the king for a ship. This was of course against the wishes of the king, so he decided to keep father and son as prisoners on the island.

The inventor though had plans of his own. "If land and water are not an option, all that remains for us is the free skies", said Daedalos to his son. He began to collect all the feathers he could find lying on the beach. He would require a lot of feathers. Back home he started to attach the feathers to long wooden staffs. Using wax, he formed large wings - a pair for himself and one for Icarus.

Both of them climbed a high mountain close to the coast. Daedalos tried out the wings. After a successful flight he then put the second pair on his son. He hugged Icarus and warned him again: "Do not fly to low. The water will dampen your wings making them heavier until you are finally sucked towards ground. Do not fly to high. The hot rays from the sun will melt the wax on your wings and you will then crash. Just follow me and we will both get home safe."

Daedalos and Icarus both soared into the sky like to huge birds and left Crete far behind them. Fishermen who saw both of them flying over the waters, thought that they were gods. They continued flying at great speed. Both of the islands Samos and Delos were passed and the coast of Greece was already visible. By this point there was no stopping Icarus. Full of confidence he flapped his wings faster and faster getting higher and closer to the sun. Then it happened: The wax on his wings melted. The feathers left the staffs flying in all directions. In desperation, the boy kept on flapping his arms in the air. There was to be no rescue for Icarus though and a helpless Daedalos had to watch his own son crash into the sea and drown in the waves.

He himself made it to Greece safely. Alas, Daedalos was never happy again for the rest of his life. He blamed his invention for his son's death. He died a lonely and bitter many years later.


Taken and translated into English from the book:
"Hallo Welt" Das große Jugendjahrbuch: Luft ist Leben; 1989 Domino Verlag Günther Brinek, München

The life of Matisse

Henri Émile Benoît Matisse was born on December 31st 1869 in Le Cateau-Cambrésis (North France). In 1890 while he was recovering from an Appendix infection, his mother gave him a paint set as a present. As he started to paint, he gave up his job as a lawyer and moved to Paris. It was here that he studied art, perfecting his technique by copying the masters of old.

Influenced by the likes of Paul Gaugin, Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh, Matisse soon found his own artistic direction. Henri Matisse usually restricted to himself to the usage of very few - but very pure - colours. The interesting effect was created by the relationships between his different coloured areas. Later in his career, the coloured areas became more and more relevant in his work.

Earlier mocked and now admired especially for the way he would cut pictures into bright sections of colour. Even when old and bedridden, he continued his work.

Henri Matisse died on November 3rd 1954 in Nice.