Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this drawing.
The classically balanced and serene qualities of this lovely drawing give no indication that Matisse executed it during a profoundly trying period in his life. In early 1939, the intermittent rumblings of imminent war had been unsettling enough, but since the Fall of the previous year, Mme Matisse, who for twenty years had been in a state of poor health and living in Paris, rejoined the artist at his residence in the Hôtel Régina in Nice, and insisted on taking charge of the household. Rumors had long been flying about Matisse's relationship with Lydia Delectorskaya, a young woman who served as his chief model, studio assistant and secretary. The artist's friends had attested to the fact there had been no impropriety, but Mme Matisse insisted that Lydia had to go. She was dismissed and left Nice. Constant and mutually debilitating arguments nonetheless continued, with the result that in February 1939, after 40 years of marriage, Matisse and his wife initiated the process of legal separation. Mme Matisse departed for Paris in early March, but Lydia did not resume working for the artist until the summer. Hilary Spurling has written:
The painter remained alone in his double apartment on the seventh floor of the Regina, the only occupant of the whole vast, empty, echoing building looking out on sky and sea high above the town. In one part of his mind he brooded in a state of profound and poisonous disillusionment on the fifty years of painting that had devoured his life. In another, he reveled in this sudden lull of liberty, calm and solitude. War had become inevitable that month when Hitler finally engulfed Czechoslovakia and turned his sights on Poland. Matisse knew well enough that this respite was temporary. 'The twittering of my birds, which had begun to leave me indifferent, even hostile, takes possession of me in this great stranded ship at Cimiez, with thunderstorms brewing all around to which I pay no attention' (in Matisse the Master, New York, 2005, pp. 384-385).
Matisse turned to the subject of music, and employing the motif of a guitar, he painted Femme en jaune et bleu, à la guitare in March, followed by a dual-figure composition, La musique (coll. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo), whose progress was documented in photographs dated 18 March through 8 April. The present drawing was done during this time, and may portray one of the two models that Matisse used in La Guitariste, Hélène Galitzine and her cousin. When Pierre Matisse received the shipment of the painting in New York, he wrote his father, "The canvas has amplitude, richness and sustained power of an organ peal." Matisse replied to him, "It sustained me in the cruelest and most painful moment of my life" (quoted in ibid.).
In his 1939 text Notes of a Painter on his Drawing (see note to lot 271), Matisse discussed his approach to the model as he drew or painted:
My models, human figures, are never just 'extras' in an interior. They are the principal theme of my work. I depend absolutely on my model, whom I observe at liberty, and then I decide on the pose that best suits her nature. My plastic signs probably express their souls (a word I dislike), which interests me subconsciously, or what else is there? Their forms are not always perfect, but they are always expressive. The emotional interest they inspire in me is not particularly apparent in the representation of their bodies, but often rather by the lines or the special values distributed over the whole canvas or paper and which form its orchestration, its architecture. But not everyone perceives this. It is perhaps sublimated voluptuousness, something that may not be perceptible to everybody. Above all, I do not create a woman, I make a picture.
(translated and reprinted in J. Flam, ed. Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 131-132)