Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The charcoal drawing Étude pour La Dormeuse (Le Rêve) is a key link in a remarkable chain of paintings and drawings that occupied Matisse between 1937 and 1940, bridging the period of the gathering storm before the Second World War and the first year of the conflict as it quickly engulfed Europe in all its fury. His subject is a sleeping and dreaming young woman, whose figure he adorned in an elaborately embroidered Romanian blouse. Here the war might seem a distant reality. The sleeper is perhaps, however, the artist’s muse seeking a fragile respite from the tragic turn of daily events, her uneasy sleep a tacit lament for a world that has abjured peace and beauty. The ethnic folk blouse suggests a tribute to the brave peoples of Eastern Europe–the Czechs and Poles, already subjugated, and during 1940 the Balkan nations as they resisted the Nazi onslaught.
The blouse roumaine first made its appearance during the spring of 1937 in three photographs that Matisse took of a favorite model, Hélène Galitzine, wearing a garment he had re-discovered among his extensive collection of ethnic costumes and textiles. She posed for a series of drawings, resulting in a painting completed in late April (L. Delectorskaya, Henri Matisse, with apparent ease, Paris, 1988, pp. 236-241). The daydreaming or sleeping woman had been a recurrent subject in Matisse’s work since the early Nice period. Picasso was also fond of this theme, as seen in the latter’s figure paintings of Marie-Thérèse during the early 1930s.
While in Paris during the summer of 1939, Matisse met with the Romanian painter Theodor Pallady–whom he had known since 1895, when they were students at the École des Beaux-Arts–and drew a series of portraits of him (L. Delectorskaya, op. cit., 1996, pp. 41-43). Pallady sent Matisse other examples of the Romanian folk blouse, further stimulating the latter’s interest in its decorative pictorial potential. In a drawing dated 11 December 1939 Matisse conceived the idea for the painting Blouse romaine, which he completed on 9 April 1940 (Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris). Pallady visited Matisse while passing through Nice on his return to Romania, a meeting which Matisse recorded in a pair of portrait drawings dated March 1940. The two artists corresponded during the war.
Matisse introduced the sleeping woman in an ink drawing dated 14 December 1939 (ibid., p. 66). Then, having clad her in Romanian costume, he rendered the present drawing in vigorously worked charcoal on 23 December 1939. The model is Micheline P. Jugé. The artist employed this figure in his painting Nature morte à la dormeuse, completed on 6 January 1940 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). Having reworked this sleeping woman with background elements in three charcoal drawings during 7-9 January, Matisse then commenced on 11 January the apotheosis of his dormeuse roumaine theme–the painting, which, in twelve progressively abstract stages as recorded in Lydia’s photographs, on 19 September 1940 became Le Rêve as it is known today (Matisse: In Search of True Painting, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2012, pp. 150-151). This is “a picture I pursued as the fancy took me,” Matisse wrote to his son Pierre in New York on 18 September 1940. “This painting, which started out very realistic with a beautiful woman sleeping on a marble table amid fruit, has become an angel... The visible sleeve is embroidered, it’s the Romanian blouse” (quoted in ibid., p. 153).
Henri Matisse, Le Rêve, Nice, September 1940. Private collection.