Executed in June 1945, Portrait de femme is a perfect example from Dubuffet's portrait pantheon, and more so to the series of works he created under the banner of Mirabolus, Macadam et Cie. Most of these pictures, which showed everyday people and everyday life, were exhibited at the Galerie Reni Drouin in 1946. It was in this group of works that Dubuffet began truly exploring a darker and more earthy palette while focusing on a more domestic level of subject matter, finally consolidating the style and idiom that would mark his most influential and successful paintings. Instead of outdoor scenes from the countryside, he now painted people close up, filling the canvas with life. This was in part a legacy of Dubuffet's return to Paris, to the energetic world that was celebrating and reconstructing itself in the wake of the Second World War. In Portrait de femme, the immediacy of Dubuffet's portrayal is wholly aimed at pleasing the viewer. There is no sense of cosmetic gloss, no sense of any academic training, but instead an exhuberant face painted in an eager manner.
Dubuffet sought to tap into the vitality of life, to create something that was not only a picture, but that somehow translated more about its subject matter. A painting was meant to exist as an object in its own right, hence the similarity in texture between the subject and his background. The style is intended to shock the viewer into a pure, immediate, emotional and sensual appreciation of the image. "I would rather that my pictures amused and interested the man in the street when he leaves his own work, not the art-struck, the in-people, but those who have no particular instruction or propensity. It's the man in the street that I'm after, personally, he's the one I feel akin to, he's the one I want to be friends with and confide in and collude with, and he's the one I'd like to delight and enchant with my works" (J. Dubuffet, quoted in Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, ed. M. Glimcher, New York, 1987, p. 46).
During the mid-1940s, Dubuffet found the intensity he sought in the painting of portraits, where one truly confronts and tackles one's subject on a personal level. These portraits featured the various intellectuals who attended, along with the artist, the weekly salons of a refined American Francophile, Florence Gould. However, while these portraits of people's "true faces" were absorbing and innovative, it was in the everyday people and scenes that Dubuffet revelled. He wanted to capture, and to speak to, the characters of modern life, hence his paintings of presidents, coquettes, women with umbrellas.
This intimately scaled Portrait de femme was gifted to Pierre Matisse by Dubuffet and is an outstanding example of the artists early portraits - the femine figure is fully imagined with bits of color and profound whimsy that help set this work apart from others of this early period.