Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The attitude of the figure in this in this impressively rendered charcoal drawing is related to a classic pose that is one of the best-known in all of Matisse's oeuvre. This model's configuration first appeared in the oil painting Odalisque assise aux bras levées, 1923 (Bernheim-Jeune, no. 580; National Gallery of Art, Chester Dale Collection, Washington, D.C.). Matisse employed a similar pose two years later in one of his most beautiful lithographs, Nu au cousin bleu à coté d'une cheminée (Duthuit, no. 454). The artist returned to this posture, viewed frontally and in reverse direction, in the oil painting Odalisque au tambourin, 1926 (Bernheim-Jeune, no. 666 [titled Nu au fauteuil rayé and dated 1927]; The Museum of Modern Art, New York).
During this time Matisse was at work on his sculptural masterpiece of the Nice period, the Grand nu assis, the final version of which he completed in 1929 (Duthuit, no. 24; fig. 1). This is certainly his most powerful realization of the 'arms-raised' pose, which Jean Leymarie described as "a generous tribute to the visual splendor of the female body, which spreads in all directions within the tactile space in generates" (in Henri Matisse, sculptures, exh. cat., Musée Matisse, Nice, 1974, preface). Matisse derived this pose from his study of Michelangelo's female figure The Night, one of the nude sculptures that the latter executed in 1520-1534 to adorn the tomb of Giuliani d'Medici in the Medici Chapel, Florence.
Matisse revisited this pose for the present drawing, this time with the model's upper body on the right side of the sheet. Matisse had now reached the very summit of his skills as an innovative and expressive draughtsman. He was working simultaneously in two different techniques. He made pure line drawings in pen and ink, unshaded and bare, in which erasure and revision were not possible. He also drew with pieces of charcoal, as seen here, reworking the lines with a stump (a thick paper stick used to blend and smudge out the charcoal strokes); the final image appears to emerge from a shadowy ground of pentimenti. The charcoal drawings demonstrate the artist's total engagement with the physical presence of the model before him; the pen and ink drawings represent the subject distilled to its very essence.
Dissimilar though they were, these two techniques were inter-related in practice. The artist explained in his 1939 text Notes of a Painter on his Drawing, "the [ink] 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 simultaneously the character of the model, her human expression, the quality of surrounding light, the atmosphere and all that can only be expressed by drawing." In the charcoal drawings he established "the lines or the special values distributed over the whole canvas or paper and which forms its orchestration, its architecture" (in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 130-132).
Matisse liked to paint in the mornings, and then draw in the afternoons, which might provide ideas for the next day's work. The charcoal drawings constituted an essential part of this process. John Elderfield has noted, "Painting and drawing were separated activities, and line and colour functioned separately. This led Matisse to shift his attention, around 1937, to charcoal drawing, where line coalesced from areas of tonal shading. This, it seems, could help bring back line and areas of colour more closely together" (in The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh. cat., The Arts Council of Great Britain, 1984, p. 118). While the charcoal drawings were often done in preparation for paintings during this time, Elderfield has pointed out that "they are realized in their own terms, and without exception show Matisse's stunning mastery of this especially sensual medium. The tonal gradations are extraordinarily subtle, yet appear to have been realized very spontaneously, and the keen sense of interchange between linear figure and ground adds tautness and intensity to their compositions. At their best, they are emotionally as well as technically rich and show us a more mortal Matisse then his line drawings do" (ibid., pp. 118-119).
(fig. 1) Henri Matisse, Grand nu assis, 1925-1929. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. BARCODE 25004199