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Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
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Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Profil de femme

Details
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Profil de femme
signed 'H Matisse' (upper left)
brush and India ink on paper
13 1/8 x 7 ¾ in. (33.3 x 19.4 cm.)
Painted in 1946
Provenance
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 14 May 1992, lot 165.
Private collection, New York (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
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Lot Essay

Georges Matisse has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

During the immensely creative, valedictory phase of his long career, beginning in the late 1940s, Matisse divided his time between drawing in charcoal or brush and black ink, and using scissors to create cut-outs from hand-colored papers. “Paintings seem to be finished for me now,” he wrote to his daughter Marguerite Duthuit. “I’m for decoration—there I give everything I can—I put into it all the acquisitions of my life” (quoted in H. Spurling, Matisse the Master, New York, 2005, p. 428). These culminating expressive means embodied the synthesis of color and line that Matisse had long sought in his work, now distilled to the very essentials. “It is always color that is put into play,” he explained, “even when the drawing consists of merely one continuous stroke” (quoted in A.H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: His Art and His Public, New York, 1951, p. 128).
In brush and ink, Matisse turned for his subjects most often to the figure, with individual character vying with essence for the total effect. “The human face has always greatly interested me,” he wrote in the introduction to the folio Portraits, 1954. “[Faces] probably retain my attention through their expressive individuality and through an interest that is entirely of a plastic nature. Each face has its own rhythm and it is this rhythm that creates the likeness” (quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 220-221).
In many of Matisse’s late portrait drawings, the face is rendered as a flat mask that locks eyes with the viewer. The present drawing, by contrast, is noteworthy for the corporeal fullness of the image, which shows the model resting her head pensively in the crook of her arm. Composed of multiple contrapuntal lines, the image nonetheless gives the impression of a unified arabesque, a sweeping gesture that animates the sheet and defines all aspects of form, space, light, and shadow. “The arabesque,” Matisse explained in a 1952 interview with André Verdet, is “the most synthetic way to express oneself in all one’s aspects. It translates the totality of things with a sign. It makes all the phrases into a single phrase” (quoted in ibid., pp. 210-211).
John Elderfield has called these late portrait drawings “haunting and highly memorable works of art—such bare, exposed things. They illuminate, as does the late work in particular, with a very steady light, spreading to fill the sheet with an even radiance. And for all their power as images, their drawing is indeed curiously unobtrusive: the fewest and swiftest of lines and the glowing sign is there” (The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh. cat., Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1984, p. 134).

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