Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Executed on 9 November 1939, just weeks after France had declared war on Germany, this dynamic and expressively rendered charcoal drawing is a study for the painting, La France. An image of a woman enthroned in a chair and adorned in the bold colours of the French tricolore, La France serves as a visual personification of Matisse’s homeland rendered in his quintessential style; an exuberant and patriotic image in the face of war.
Étude pour La France dates from a period not only of political and social turmoil, but also of personal upheaval as Matisse’s ailing, estranged wife, Amélie returned to Nice. After two decades of seclusion in Paris, Amélie Matisse arrived in Nice and demanded that her husband pick between her and Lydia Delectorskaya, his studio manager and principal model. In a matter of days, Matisse’s quiet residence at La Régina became the frontline of in-fighting. Forced to choose, the artist picked his wife, though she left him some short months after. Alone, Matisse found solace in a lively spirited model named Micheline Payot who is most likely the model for the present work.
During the late 1930s, Matisse created some of the most innovative and expressive drawings of his career. Drawing was a central component of his art making, allowing him to experiment with compositions, which he would then render in oil paint. He was working simultaneously in two contrasting techniques: using pen and ink to create pure line drawings, as well as charcoal which allowed him to render gestural strokes, building up form, volume and tonal shading on the surface of the paper. The charcoal drawings, such as Étude pour La France, demonstrate the artist’s total engagement with the model seated in front of him; while the pen and ink drawings represent the subject distilled to its very essence. Capturing his model’s sensuous curves and the voluminous sleeves of her decorative attire as she reclines in a chair, with these sweeping strokes Matisse also imbues his sitter with a sense of defiant confidence as she boldly faces the uncertain future of her country head on.