Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Femme au guéridon
signed and dated 'H Matisse aout 44' (lower right)
charcoal and estompe on paper
24 x 16 1/8 in. (61 x 40.9 cm.)
drawn in Vence, August 1944
Jacques Dubourg, Paris.
Evelyne Dubourg, Paris (by descent from the above).
Private collection, Zürich (acquired from the above, 1992).
Jan Krugier, acquired from the above, April 2001.
Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen and Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Henri Matisse: Figur, Farbe, Raum, October 2005-July 2006, p. 375, no. 182 (illustrated in color, p. 260).

Lot Essay

Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Prior to 1935, drawings held a subsidiary role in Matisse's work, serving as a means of solving compositional problems that the artist encountered in his works on canvas. From 1935 onward, the act of drawing became virtually an obsession--the process of drawing had become central to his art, and served as the catalyst for changes in the evolution of his painterly aesthetic. Matisse liked to paint in the mornings, and draw in the afternoons, laying down the framework for the next day's work. 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..." (The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh. cat., The Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1984, p. 118). Elderfield has stated that the charcoal drawings "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 pure line drawings do" (ibid., pp. 118-119).

In his 1939 text Notes of a Painter on his Drawing, Matisse explained that the "charcoal or stump drawing...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." 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" (quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 130-132). In Femme au guéridon, Matisse has deftly used the charcoal to create a range of textures and densities of black and creamy white, using these gradations and the luminosity of the sheet itself as the equivalent of a palette. This demonstrates the truth of his own statement that, "My drawing represents a painting executed with restricted means" (quoted in J. Golding, "Introduction" in op. cit., 1984, p. 14). He further explained, "I have always seen drawing not as the exercise of a particular skill, but above all as a means of expression of ultimate feelings and states of mind, but a means that is condensed in order to give more simplicity and spontaneity to the expression which should be conveyed directly to the spirit of the spectator" (quoted in ibid., p. 11). Nowhere is this spontaneity more apparent than in the heavily worked surface and the darting lines that comprise Femme au guéridon. Here, the final, gracefully seated woman with her thin waist and coifed hair appears to emerge from a shadowy tangle of pentimenti.

It has been suggested that the present drawing may have been a study for the painting, Jeune femme en blanc, fond rouge, 1944 (fig. 1). Matisse completed both the painting and the present drawing in Vence, a location he had moved to in late June of 1943 to avoid the expected bombardment of Nice, where he had lived throughout the first part of the war. Accompanied by his secretary, Lydia Delectorskaya, and by a team of nurses, he rented a villa called Le Rêve on the outskirts of Vence. Notable for its elegant English colonial architecture, floor-to-ceiling windows, and spacious terraces, Le Rêve would remain Matisse's primary residence until early 1949, when he returned to the Hôtel Régina in Cimiez.

Among the most important works from this late period in Vence is a series of brightly colored and freely brushed interiors that Matisse made in his studio. With their bold and undulating contours, flat planes of vivid pigment, compressed and ethereal space, and elaborate decorative patterning, the Vence interiors represent a virtuoso summation of Matisse's artistic achievement to date. John Elderfield writes: "He made his final studies of that perennial subject, the decoratively costumed female figure, now more flatly and brightly painted than ever before. The Vence interiors are so flooded with intense color that it seems at times to overflow the limits of the canvas. Matisse shows us at once a mysterious interior space of colors and patterns, with which the specific identities of things are nevertheless retained, and an elemental chromatic plane, real and substantial, that radiates light into the space around it. His last style, like the last style of other great artists, amounts to a coincidence of opposites. The calmness of the interior space and the energy that is released into our own space are inseparable and interfused" (J. Elderfield, Henri Matisse, A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992, p. 413). Describing this group of pictures, Lawrence Gowing proclaims, "When Matisse painted his last great series of interiors he was ready not only to sum up all his work, but to add to it something of dazzling originality" (in Matisse, 1869-1954, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1968, p. 41).

(fig. 1) Henri Matisse, Jeune femme en blanc, fond rouge, Vence, 1944. Private collection. BARCODE: 28857211

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