Matisse only painted four self-portraits, and in three of them, he displays himself among the tools of his trade. Standing or sitting by an easel, brush in hand, a wide pallet for his colors, perhaps the round glasses of a cautious intellectual. Look! Here in his studio, it’s the artist at work!
But this self-portrait is Matisse’s best, and here’s why: when painted, Matisse was 37 years old, a year into leading the avant-garde Fauvist movement with his friend André Derain. Matisse was busy breaking ground with bold color, and his depiction of himself is confident, both in its wide brushstrokes and surreal hues, and in his confrontational gaze. Matisse locks eyes with the viewer, wordlessly communicating that without a doubt, this, this is an artist.
Also, he’s wearing a striped shirt, which all but screams “I’m in Paris! And I paint!” Look no further than any college art department, the Parisian marinière is a requirement for dashing young artists-to-be. Though in fairness to the painter, did the striped shirt shout ‘artist’ when Matisse was painting it? Or did this painting canonize the striped shirt as the apparel of the painter?
Reed Enger, "Self Portrait in a Striped T-shirt," in Obelisk Art History, Published February 16, 2015; last modified June 01, 2020, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/henri-matisse/self-portrait-in-a-striped-t-shirt/.