Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Odalisque allongée près d'une corbeille de fruits comes from an exceptional series of works on Matisse’s most important subject during the 1920s, the odalisque. Closely related to a number of important paintings from 1927, it features a model in the very same environment, assuming differing poses (see Dauberville, nos. 674-681). Paintings from this series, each entitled Odalisque à la culotte grise, are held in the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, positioning them as some of the artist’s most important works of this period, as Jack Cowart described one such work to be ‘the fullest realization of Matisse's thesis on pattern, decoration, and the odalisque...[they] are fantasies in the best sense of the word’ (in exh. cat., Matisse: The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930, Washington, D.C., 1987, p. 37).
The model in this drawing leans back on a striped cushion placed on a Turkish rug, against a backdrop of ornamental wall-hangings, with a brazier, fruit and flowers at her feet. In the autumn of 1926, Matisse moved from his third-floor apartment to roomier quarters on the top floor at 1, Place Charles Félix, where he set up two studio spaces for his increasingly elaborate odalisque settings. These exotic environments were created not only in response to Matisse’s earlier travels to North Africa, but were derived also from the surroundings of Nice which inspired his sense of fantasy.
As Hilary Spurling comments: ‘These unreal interiors matched the essential theatricality of Nice, a city that had always valued décor above architecture, where the 1920s saw the invention of an entirely new medium based on unreality. Matisse got used to coming across a caravanserai of sheikhs on location, or a freak rainstorm laid on for a film team by local firemen with hoses. He recruited models at the film studios or in the café on Place Masséna where extras collected each morning in search of work. Like the silent cinema, he borrowed the make-believe settings of French painterly orientalising for ends of his own. Contemporaries who accused Matisse of slipping back into reactionary mode missed the point. So do humorous charges of colonial exploitation, since Matisse, like the popular film-makers, positively emphasised the fact that his odalisques, with their up-to-date hair-dos and frank body language, came neither from North Africa nor the Middle East but from contemporary France. Their blatant modernity intensifies the erotic charge that distracts attention, as Matisse had said himself, from less obvious explorations going on in the same canvas’ (H. Spurling, Matisse: The Life, London, 2009, p. 339).
During this time, Matisse turned from shaded charcoal drawings to what would prove to become his signature style of draughtsmanship, making line drawings in pen and India ink. John Elderfield has pointed out that ‘In the second half of the 1920s, Matisse's drawings would seem to throw off their wistful moods to become as relaxed and hedonistic as most of his paintings were. This was accompanied and made possible by a shift from tonal charcoal drawing to line’ (in exh. cat., The Drawings of Henri Matisse, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1984, p. 91).
Matisse executed most of his ink drawings in pure, unadorned lines that trace the essential contours of the figure as well as the barest outlines of objects and decorative motifs. In some drawings, as seen here, he practiced the classic technique of an etcher, and hatched select areas to lend weight and depth to the balance of the composition. On a very few sheets he shaded the image so thoroughly that it becomes in effect a grisaille study. While Matisse often made hatched drawings in erasable pencil, he executed drawings of this kind in ink only occasionally. These represent an especially focused and intensive effort on his part, and the results are richly evocative.