Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this drawing.
Executed in 1923, this work dates from Henri Matisse's stay in Nice, a city whose exoticism, light and energy provided a wonderful source of inspiration to the artist. By this date, Matisse had taken up residence at 1, place Charles-Félix, an apartment of flamboyant décor further accentuated by the artist's own collection of paintings, ethnic masks and textile hangings. This exquisite rendering of Henriette Darricarrère, the artist's favorite model at that time, dates from the same period as the painting of the same title. However, according to Wanda de Guébriant, the present work was not a preparatory study for the oil and should be regarded as a finished composition in its own right. When ambient light diminished in the artist's studio later in the day, the artist frequently turned to charcoal as a more effective means of exploring the resultant effect on the model's pose and surroundings.
Matisse's interest in the odalisque dates back to his first trips to Algeria and Morocco in 1906 and 1912-13 respectively, where he was struck by the brilliance of light and vivacity of color. The theme of the harem captive, the central motif in Matisse's oeuvre during the 1920s, was actually an invented subject drawn from the artist's own imagination, which evoked the Orientalist subject matter of his revered predecessors, Ingres and Delacroix. The proche orient of Matisse's own fantasy is adeptly conveyed in the present work through the languid, sensual pose of the model, who reclines on a chaise longue, with her arms uplifted to support her. The composition is underpinned by a tension that Matisse has heightened through the juxtapositions of contrasts, light and shade, angular and rounded forms. "In this atmosphere of languid ralaxation, under the torpor of the sun washing over people and objects, there is a great tension brewing, a tension of a specifically pictorial order, a tension that comes from the interplay and interrelationship of elements" (quoted in Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930, exh. cat., The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1986, p. 35).
The artist's technique of estompe--the rubbing of the charcoal lines with the blunt end of a rolled-paper stick--allowed him to simultaneously explore subtle nuances in his model's character, as well the luminous quality of light that surrounded her, in a way he felt was only possible in drawings. This powerful chiaroscuro effect accentuates the contrast between light and shade and lends substance to pictorial elements, particularly the rounded female and fruit forms. This celebration of rich blacks, whites and graded shading radiates an intensity of light as powerful and evocative as any of the artist's paintings.