Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this drawing.
The present self-portrait was executed shortly after the dual imprisonment of the artist's wife, Amélie, and his eldest daughter, Marguerite during the Second World War. In an anguished letter to fellow painter and lifelong friend Charles Camoin, Matisse called the news of his wife's recent detainment by the Gestapo "the worst shock of my life" (H. Spurling, Matisse The Master, The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954, New York, 2005, vol. II, p. 422). Despite the war tide's sharp turn--the Allies landed in Normandy the month before the present work was executed--Matisse was increasingly sick and careworn by July 1944.
Though the present self portrait was executed at the artist's lowest emotional and physical ebb, his family imperiled, his health failing--he was bedridden throughout the summer--the world literally crumbling around him, Matisse appears none the worse. Typical of his celebrated self portraiture, Matisse's eyes are coolly fixed, his mouth firmly set, his right eyebrow casually arched. The portrait characteristically defies the artist's myriad external anxieties. Two months later, the model Annelies Nelck, then posing for Matisse's illustrations for Les Fleurs du Mal, saw German soldiers retreat past their window and "cried out." Matisse, however, "did not even turn his head. 'Never let it be said that I stopped work to watch the Germans depart,' he said grimly" (H. Spurling, ibid., p. 423).