Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
After completing the Vence Chapel commission in 1951, Matisse continued to conceive decorative projects in stained glass and tile relief. He divided his time between drawing in charcoal, brush and black ink, and using scissors to create cut-outs from hand-colored papers. “Paintings seem to be finished for me now,” he wrote to his daughter Marguerite Duthuit. “I’m for decoration—there I give everything I can—I put into it all the acquisitions of my life” (quoted in H. Spurling, Matisse the Master, New York, 2005, p. 428).
In his brush and ink drawings Matisse turned to the figure, more often to portraiture. “The human face has always greatly interested me,” Matisse wrote in the introduction to the folio Portraits, 1954. “I have indeed a rather remarkable memory for faces, even for those that I have seen only once. In looking at them I do not perform any psychological interpretation, but I am struck by their individuality and profound expression...They probably retain my attention through their expressive individuality and through an interest that is entirely of a plastic nature...Each face has its own rhythm and it is this rhythm that creates the likeness...The conclusion of this is: the art of portraiture is the most remarkable” (J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 220, 221 and 223).
Matisse’s subjects in the brush drawings may appear female, male, or androgynous; individual character vies with essence for the total effect. The visages belong to attractive young people of the early 1950s, yet seem to spring forth from Mediterranean antiquity. An arching arabesque unifies the thick, sweeping, gestural lines to imbue the image with a complete sensation of form, space, light, and shadow. “The arabesque,” Matisse explained in a 1952 interview with André Verdet, is “the most synthetic way to express oneself in all one’s aspects... It translates the totality of things with a sign. It makes all the phrases into a single phrase” (ibid., pp. 210-211).
John Elderfield has called these late portrait drawings “haunting and highly memorable works of art–such bare, exposed things. They illuminate, as does the late work in particular, with a very steady light, spreading to fill the sheet with an even radiance. And for all their power as images, their drawing is indeed curiously unobtrusive: the fewest and swiftest of lines and the glowing sign is there” (The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh. cat., Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1984, p. 134).