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

Nu devant le miroir

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Nu devant le miroir
signed and dated 'Henri Matisse 37' (lower left)
pen and India ink on paper
11¼ x 15 in. (28.6 x 38.1 cm.)
Drawn in 1937
Kleemann Gallery, New York.
Anon. sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 24 January 1963, lot 32.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
Sale room notice
Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this drawing.

Please note the following literature information:
R. Escholier, Matisse ce vivant, Paris, 1956, p. 213 (illustrated). R. Escholier, Matisse from life, London, p. 109 (illustrated).
I. Grünewald, Matisse, Stockholm, 1937, p. 144 (illustrated).
J. Guichard-Meili, Henri Matisse, son oeuvre, son univers, Paris, 1967, p. 209 (illustrated).
G. Marchiori, Matisse, 1967, no. 88 (illustrated).
M. Pleynet, L'enseignement de la peinture, 1971, p. 24 (illustrated).
J. Selz, Matisse, Paris, 1965, p. 34 (illustrated).
J. Selz, Matisse, Paris, 1990, p. 88 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

In the final weeks of 1935, Matisse executed a sequence of eight drawings in pen and India ink on white paper, which he rendered with a line as fine and unerring as that which he employed in his etchings. Known as the nu couché series--each drawing features a female model lying down on textiles spread out on the floor of the artist's studio (fig. 1)--this group inaugurated a larger series of studio nudes in various poses that Matisse continued into 1936-1937, which includes Nu devant le miroir, the present drawing. John Elderfield, has written, "They are among the finest achievements of his draughtsmanship. Some of the individual sheets are breathtaking in their assurance and audacity, and almost without exception, they realize [the] decorative assimilation of the figure into the decorated unity of the sheet" (in The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh. cat, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1985, p. 113).

The reclining pose in the initial nu couché drawings encouraged Matisse to employ the full width of a mid-sized sheet laid horizontally, which he continued to use in subsequent studio drawings. He returned to the subject of his odalisques in paintings and drawings from the late 1920s (see lot 106) and also again took up the use of pen and India ink. With this technique the marks he made on paper were final and uncorrectable, and at the same time the results had to appear effortless and spontaneous; an overly calculated, premeditated line would end up looking self-conscious, ponderous and unexciting. Matisse described drawing with pen and ink "as if it were an acrobatic feat" (in Notes of a Painter on his Drawing, see citation below).

These ink drawings of nudes, seen in the decorated environment of Matisse's studio in Nice, are absolutely fully-formed and self-contained works of art. They were not, like many artists' drawings, an initial conception or studies for something else, but an end in themselves, a perfectly realized synthesis of subject and mastery of means. Using the device of the mirror in the present drawing, Matisse opens up the space and renders two views of his model, creating a drawing within a drawing. Elderfield wrote, "In the great mid-1930s drawing, [line drawing] magically finds affinity with linear Eastern decorations and patterned fabrics, with arabesque ornament and latticework screens. In the Nice period [the 1920s], things of this kind had frequently been represented, and Matisse continued this practice in the 1930s. But now, the drawing itself is a latticework, an all-over patterned fabric. The exotic mood of the earlier drawings disappears. And so does the heavily sensual atmosphere. No longer does Matisse depict the exotic or the sensual. His drawings embody exoticism and sensuality within the purity of their means" (ibid., p. 114).

Matisse realized that he had achieved something quite remarkable and noteworthy. In 1939 the editors of the art journal Le Point persuaded Matisse to make a statement about drawing, just as he had done about painting in 1908. He had titled the earlier text Notes of a Painter. He alluded to it in his new pronouncements, which he called Notes of a Painter on his Drawing. Although he had been making very fine charcoal drawings as well at this time, Matisse considered first and foremost the great line drawings he had done over the past several years. He wrote:

My line drawing is the purest and most direct translation of my emotion. The simplification of the medium allows that. However, these drawings are more complete than they appear to some people who confuse them with a kind of sketch. They generate light they contain, in addition to the flavor and sensitivity of the line, light and value differences that quite clearly correspond to color. They derive from the fact that the drawings are 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 in drawing. And it is only then when I feel I am drained by the work, which may go on for several sessions, that my mind is cleared and I have the confidence to give free rein to my pen. Then I distinctly feel that my emotion is expressed by means of plastic writing.
(quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 130-131).

(fig. 1) Henri Matisse, Nu dans l'atelier, 1935; sold, Christie's, New York, 3 November 2004, lot 7.


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