Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this drawing.
From the early 1920s onward, Matisse alternated between dual methods of drawing. At certain times he favored the fine, spontaneous and uncorrected line of pen and ink or pencil against a stark white sheet. Or, as seen here, he employed the rich shading of charcoal, using his fingers, a rag, or the end of a stump--a thick stick of tightly rolled paper--to rub the charcoal into the surface of the sheets, which he normally reworked through a series of states, while retaining traces of earlier pentimenti. He utilized both means as interrelated steps in a process of translating his emotions, by means of a likeness, to paper. In 1939, Matisse wrote that his ink line drawings are "always preceded by studies made in a less rigorous medium than pure line, such as charcoal or stump drawing, which allows me to consider the character of the model, her human expression, the quality of the surrounding light, the atmosphere and all that can only be expressed by drawing" (quoted in "Notes of a Painter on his Drawing," in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 130-131).
Matisse followed this approach systematically in his celebrated series of Thémes et variations, which he drew in 1941-1942. He commenced eleven of the sixteen subjects in this series with a shaded charcoal drawing, before turning to pen and ink or pencil for subsequent linear renderings of the theme. He continued to work both in charcoal, and pen and ink through the late 1940s. He would next concentrate on his paper cut-outs, and a new, emboldened manner of brush and ink drawing, in which he effectively merged the condensed linearity of his pen and ink technique with the more expansive tonal modeling seen in the charcoal drawings, to create what John Elderfield called "a kind of painting with reduced means" (in The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh. cat., The Arts Council of Great Britain, 1984, p. 128.)
The present work displays several significant characteristics of Matisse's portrait drawings during this period. The artist has viewed his sitter frontally and emphasized the cylindrical verticality of the head and neck, whose forms he has reinforced by means of rubbed charcoal shading. He has defined the essential character of his subject, and created a powerful sense of presence with a simple economy of means; there are neither extraneous lines nor decorative details. His aim, as he stated it in a 1947 exhibition catalogue essay titled "Exactitude is not the Truth," was, quite simply, the "translation of the human sensibility of the person represented" (quoted in J. Flam, op. cit., p. 180). In drawings of the kind seen here, Matisse prepared for his ultimate conception of the female visage, the ink or chalk "mask" drawings of his last years, "such bare, exposed things," as Elderfield called them (ibid., p. 134).