Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Matisse employed rubbed charcoal or pencil for many of the drawings that he executed in Nice. While working on his odalisque paintings in the early 1920s, he drew less frequently in pen and ink. The charcoal drawings were usually heavily shaded, while the ink drawings were hatched, in order to express a fuller more sculptural sense of volume and modeled form. In the later 1920s, however, Matisse turned increasingly to what would prove to become his signature style of draughtsmanship: making pure line drawings in pen and ink. John Elderfield observed, "In the second half of the 1920s, Matisse's drawings would seem to throw off their wistful moods to become as relaxed and hedonistic as most of his paintings were. This was accompanied and made possible by a shift from tonal charcoal drawing to line. Compared to the ink drawings of the early 1920s, the new ink drawings tend, by and large, to eschew shading. Line alone gives weight to figures and participates in the ornamentation provided by the similarly arabesque treatment of the setting. The sheet is often filled out right to the edges to form a single patterned unit within which the identities of the figures are obscured. In drawings of this kind, the decorative function of the figure subsumes its human identity" (The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1984, p. 91).
The present drawing is related to a series of odalisque paintings executed in 1927-1928, such as Odalisque au fauteuil turc (fig. 1). "These striking paintings are the fullest realization of Matisse's thesis on pattern, decoration, and the odalisque placed in this 'brewing tension'" (J. Cowart, Matisse, The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930, exh. cat., The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1987, p. 37). The composition mirrors the paintings of this period in their tripartite layout, with a floral design in the foreground leading the eye into the space, in which the model occupies the center, with various props and patterning constituting the background.
Matisse wrote in his 1939 text, Notes of a Painter on his Drawing, "My line drawing is the purest and most direct translation of my emotion" (J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 130-131). These drawings were done at a single, concentrated sitting, in which the artist cast aside caution and deliberation in order to achieve the freshness and spontaneity that best expressed his vision of an immediate perception of sensuality and visual delight. The results could not be reworked or corrected—Matisse compared himself to a "dancer or tightrope walker." Elderfield stated, "When he did succeed, his line is as stubborn and searching as any we know, as well as direct. Like any act of achieved condensation, it simply seems so fluently easy. The supposed elegance of Matisse's line, like the supposed hedonism of his work as a whole, is nothing less than the convincing clarity of an art that contains its creative struggle within the vividness, and grace, of its realization" (op. cit., p. 92).