Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Femme au col volant belongs to an extremely elegant series of pen and ink drawings and paintings of models wearing decorative Persian and Romanian costumes from the mid-1930s. Matisse began this series in the winter of 1935 in Nice at his studio at place Charles-Félix and exhibited several of the drawings at the Leicester Galleries in London in January 1936. Such was Matisse's satisfaction with the drawings that thirty-five of these sheets were reproduced in a special issue of Cahiers d'Art in the same year. As John Elderfield affirms:
[these drawings] are among the greatest achievements of his draughtsmanship. Some of the individual sheets are breathtaking in their assurance and audacity. The difficult lessons in composition Matisse had taught himself in the earlier 1930s made possible the utter fluency and sense of almost instantaneously achieved order that emerges from these remarkable works (in The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1984, p. 113).
The model, Lydia Delectorskaya, subject of many sensuous drawings from this period, was originally hired in 1932 as a companion to the ailing Mme Matisse but began to pose for the artist in 1934. Lydia would soon become Matisse's chief model, studio assistant and secretary, prompting many rumors of a romantic relationship. Although there is no proof of impropriety, and many friends of the artist attested to the contrary, Lydia was certainly a source of powerful aesthetic inspiration; the years between Lydia's arrival in--and temporary forced departure from Nice--in 1939 were an immensely fertile period for the artist. Not only did Matisse reach the apotheosis of his pen and ink drawing, but he converted the sultry and mesmerizing lines of his works on paper into the incandescent jewel toned palettes for his magnificent portrait paintings, many of which also featured Lydia.
Here Lydia wears the ruffled shirt and pearls in which she appears repeatedly (fig. 1), most famously in the riveting portrait Femme en bleu (fig. 2). The informative symmetry between Matisse's line drawings and paintings is quite superficially apparent; the rhythm of the artist's line as it follows the undulations of fabric, the intense gaze of the model, and the pearl necklaces, acts in the drawing as a corollary to the artist's use of expressive planes of saturated color in the oil paintings. As Matisse himself explained, "My line drawing is the purest and most direct translation of emotion. The simplification of the medium allows that." The photographs of Lydia in the fabled blouse are surreally surprising, as they radically disrupt the pretense of the body and blouse's visual symbiosis. In the drawings, however, the artist's rhythmic attention to the ruffles on the blouse appears obsessive, almost to the point of almost inattention.
In a unique reading of the late 1930s drawings, Christian Zervos has pointed to Matisse as pioneer of automatism and oneiric activity: "Indeed, ever since the Fauvist period, Matisse had worked outside the realm of their preconceived--in a realm, rather, where the artist was not fully conscious of his action" (in "Automatism and Illusory Space," Henri Matisse Drawings 1936: A Facsimile Edition, New York, 2005, p. 1). In this context Zervos further delineates a "state of delirium" which "transports us into the realm of forgetting, relieves us of consequences, exempts us from all sorts of precision, invents irresistible motives, however specious, decks itself out in so many liberties, allures by so many novelties, that it is difficult to keep up with it" (ibid.).
Here, lost in Lydia's lovely and bountiful ruffles, it is difficult to imagine Matisse, the pen and ink draughtsman, as the rigidly disciplined and practiced "tightrope walker" he notoriously called himself. Instead, we imagine his hand loosely weaving back and forth in the space of Lydia's shirt, interminably. It is this uniquely confident line, the bold and unerring sweep of each curve, and the mesmerizing repetition, that most legibly translates as emotion. Zervos describes the state of delirium itself, the act of producing art under the influence of the subconscious, as "seductive," and this word seems equally apt for characterizing the artist's relationship to his model (ibid.). His rapture for her is incarnated in this shirt, delivered over and over to her on the page like a lullaby, as it was perhaps never realized in real life. This sensitivity is repeated in still more drawings where Matisse focuses on close-ups of Lydia's blouse alone, leaving no doubt as to the synecdochal relationship of Lydia's blouse to her person.
(fig. 1) Lydia Delektorskaya in Matisse's studio.
(fig. 2) Henri Matisse, Femme en bleu, 1937. Philadelphia Museum of Art.