MMe de Guébriant has kindly confirmed the authenticity of this drawing.
During the late 1930s, Matisse worked on a series of dual-figure compositions in which he placed two female models in interior settings. Some of these pictures feature a specific theme; the best-known is La musique (La guitariste), which Matisse painted in March-April 1939 (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo). Matisse planned in January 1939 to undertake a picture on the subject of maternity. The artist prepared a linoleum engraving and made a charcoal drawing of a young woman presenting a bare breast to her infant. He then added a second woman, a friend or relative, to her right, and extended this idea into a series of drawings that include the present sheet (see L. Delectorskaya, op. cit., pp. 292-195). The painting of this subject never came to pass; the drawings, nevertheless, reveal the warmth of this great artist in an especially sensitive and tender moment.
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, working and reworking the lines with a stump (a thick paper stick used to blend the charcoal strokes), so that the final image appears to emerge from and surmount a shadowy thicket of pentimenti. The charcoal drawings demonstrate the artist's total engagement with the model in front of 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 of 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. And it is only when I feel that I am drained by the work, which may go for several sessions, that my mind is cleared and I have confidence to give free rein to my pen." He went on to describe his approach to the model, "The emotional interest they inspire in me is not particularly apparent in the representation of their bodies, but often rather by 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 draw in the afternoons, to lay down the framework 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, 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 than his line drawings do" (ibid., pp. 118-119).
The present drawing on the wall of Matisse's room in the Hôtel Regina, Nice, 1939. BARCODE 20628093