I have been reading The Unknown Matisse by Hilary Spurling. Here are some things I did not know about the early Matisse. He was quite a prankster as a teenager, often using a peashooter to annoy people. He had no idea what he wanted to do except that it wasn't to follow in his father's footsteps as a store owner and seed merchant. At the age of twenty he was bitten by a bug that demanded that he become a painter. Somehow in 1891 he managed to get to Paris with a small allowance from his father. He lived in extreme poverty in the most run down areas of Paris with other artists for several years. The most famous painter of the day, William Bouguereau, told him he had no future as an artist. Even though the Impressionists were all around, he painted very conservatively. Actually his early work is quite fabulous. Since he started late as an artist, he worked constantly because he felt he had to learn everything at once.
Here's one amusing anecdote that gives an insight into Matisse's character: He entered the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs in 1892. The school had "dark, drafty classrooms...infested with rats that stole the bread-balls meant for picking out highlights on the...charcoal drawings." Matisse was older than most of the other art students. He "made a stir in his first class by refusing to remove his hat for the master: 'I'll take off my hat when there are no more drafts.' He was promptly suspended for two weeks for insolence."