Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
‘The jewels or the arabesques never overwhelm my drawings from the model, because these jewels and arabesques form part of my orchestration. Well placed, they suggest the form or the value accents necessary to the composition of the drawing.’
(Matisse in Notes of a Painter on His Drawing, 1939, in, J. Flam, ‘Matisse on Art’, 1995, pp. 130-131).
During 1941 and 1942, while he was convalescing in bed in the Hôtel Régina, Matisse executed a series of works entitled the Thèmes et variations. He would begin with a charcoal drawing his Thème and then explore Variations upon that theme. Matisse executed a phenomenal 158 drawings within this period, which were then gathered into a portfolio, reproduced and published in 1943 as Dessins: Thèmes et variations. The drawings were executed systematically: there were 17 sequences or themes, lettered A to P, with each theme consisting of 3 to 19 variations. In 12 of the sequences the theme drawing (bearing the number 1) was executed in charcoal, with the remaining variations done in pen and India ink, black Conté crayon or pencil. Eleven of the themes featured women, the remaining six were still-life subjects.
The Thèmes et variations were in many ways the culmination of a lifetime of artistic exploration, hence Matisse's own comments to his son: 'For a year now I've been making an enormous effort in drawing. I say effort but that's a mistake, because what has occurred is a 'floraison' after fifty years of effort' (Matisse, quoted in J. Golding, 'Introduction,' pp. 10-18, J. Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh.cat., London & New York, 1985, p. 16). These works, which were published in a book with a long introduction by the poet Louis Aragon, had an overarching musical character, as is hinted at by the Variations of the title, and this musicality is also reflected in the elegant and atmospheric content of the drawings, as is clear in Théme C Variation 8.
In the charcoal version (C1) in this series the model is surrounded and overwhelmed by flowers, and in the sequence of variations the flowers are accorded less prominence as the sitter dominates the composition. In his study of the Thèmes et variations, Jack Flam writes: Through the set of C Variations, the physical touch of the pen is as carefully modulated as a violinist's work with his bow. The breath-taking virtuosity of this set ends with a kind of crescendo in C8, where the simplified composition is played against the astonishingly varied inflections of the pen marks. Appropriately enough, the heightened emotional pitch evoked by the manner of rendering is paralleled by the heightened vivacity of the model: her posture, her facial expression, and the unexpected way that she runs her fingers through her hair produce an extremely sensual and confrontational effect. (J. Flam, "Matisse's Dessins Thèmes et variations: A Book and a Method," exh. cat., Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart op. cit., p. 122).
Matisse’s use of pen and ink brings a lush and exotic splendour to these materials, to the wealth of detail that they introduce to the drawing, and also to the sense of movement. In ‘Notes of a Painter on his Drawing’ of 1939, Matisse recounted how line drawing was ‘the purest and most direct translation’ of his emotion because it was a purified medium, and after working relentlessly and repetitively with the ‘less rigorous’ medium of charcoal how he finally reaches a thorough study of the model, thus achieving ‘a clear mind and without hesitation give free rein to my pen … Then I distinctly feel that my emotion is expressed by means of plastic writing. Once my emotive line has modelled the light of my white paper without destroying its precious whiteness, I can neither add nor take anything away.’ (Matisse in Notes of a Painter on His Drawing, 1939, in, J. Flam, ‘Matisse on Art’, 1995, pp. 130-131).