Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this drawing.
In the Summer of 1933, the Limited Editions Club of New York commissioned Matisse to illustrate a new edition of James Joyce's Ulysses, which since its publication in 1922 stood at the very forefront of the modern novel. In March of the following year, Matisse, fascinated by the novel's contemporary parallel with Homer's Odyssey, commenced a series of drawings in preparation for six soft-ground etchings which were to be included in an edition.
The present drawing portrays Circé, who in Joyce's version is the madam of a brothel in the redlight district of Dublin. In Homer's epic poem, Circé is the teacher of the queen of the island of Aenea, who bewitched the crew of Ulysses's ship and turned them into swine. As Ulysses resists Circé's wiles and forces her to transform his crew back into men, Joyce's protagonist, Leopold Bloom, avoids Circé's curse of venereal disease by having the good sense to abstain from carnal pleasures. Matisse chose to emphasize Circé's devious feminine wiles by depicting her in this dramatically demonstrative backbending position. During the course of the preparatory studies, Matisse focused on the contest of Ulysses against the obstacles the gods placed in his way, so that the final illustrations depict violence and struggle (see sale, Christie's, New York, 12 November 1997, lot 405) giving way to obvious carnal temptation. In the final etched version, this acrobatic Circé is surrounded by a ring of five of other nude females with strategically shaded contours--a bevy of round flesh--the heady hedonistic fantasy invoked by an iconic temptress.
Joyce evidently approved of the artist's approach as an edition of 1500 illustrated copies was published by the club's presses in Westport Connecticut in 1935.