Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The present highly worked ink drawing is part of a series of Spanish subjects that Matisse created in Nice in the first half of the 1920s (fig. 1). With her dark hair, sultry features and oval face, the model in Femme à la mantille is likely to be Henriette Darricarrère (fig. 2). One of Matisse's most important muses, they first met in 1920 when she was working as an extra in Nice's movie industry. Henriette introduced a lithe theatricality to Matisse's works, often taking on the role of the odalisque or, as in the present work the espagnole, and was the foundation on which the artist built his pictorial edifice.
Jack Cowart has written: "During her seven years of modeling, Henriette excelled at role-playing and had a theatrical presence that fueled the evolution of Matisse's art. Earlier, Lorette and Antoinette had initiated the exotic odalisque fantasy, but it was Henriette whose personality seems to have been most receptive. She adopted the subject roles more easily and could express the moods and atmosphere of Matisse's settings without losing her own presence or her own strong appearance. Her distinctive physical features--a sculpturesque body and a finely detailed face with a beautiful profile--are evident in many of the artist's paintings, sculptures, and works on paper" (Henri Matisse, The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930, exh. cat., The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986, p. 27).
Here she is in costume, seated at a table and wearing an intricately embroidered mantilla or veil over a high-comb called a peineta. She gazes directly at the viewer, and by extension, the painter. This lends the drawing an wonderful sense of immediacy, with the direct look of the subject involving us in a form of dialogue, in a stolen, stilled moment. Jack Flam observed, "Matisse's great popularity is based mainly on the work of the years 1920-1925... His work had a certain note of elegance. It was exquisitely mundane. A picture of this period seemed as delightful to summarize the refined social life of today as the 18th century painters had done that of their contemporaries...He had shown himself the creator and consummate exponent of a modern rococo style" (Matisse, A Retrospective, New York, 1988, pp. 249-250).