Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Executed circa 1931, Quatre odalisques plunges the viewer into the sensuous world of Henri Matisse. This picture presents a harem-like scene, with women languidly draped over furniture or posing provocatively within an Orientalist interior, with its highly-ornamented windows at the rear. Matisse has painstakingly drawn not only the women, but also much of the sumptuous decoration, for instance the patterns of the textiles on the chair and on part of the ground. The women, clad in what appear to be transparent chiffon skirts and incidental items of jewellery, epitomise the sense of beauty that Matisse sought to capture in his pictures. These figures, who would have been based on models posing for Matisse in his own studio, which itself was filled with details and objects that allowed it to take on the guise of an Ottoman interior, have been shown as odalisques as this was a pretext that the artist used in order to give some validity to his pictorial explorations of the nude. This was a factor that had come to the fore in particular after his own travels in North Africa.
Quatre odalisques has been linked to a project with which Matisse was engaged around this time, the illustration of a deluxe edition of Jean de La Fontaine's Amours de Psyché et Cupidon, one of the first two artist's books to be published by Albert Skira, the other being Ovid's Metamorphoses, accompanied by pictures by Pablo Picasso. In his studies towards the Amours de Psyché et Cupidon, Matisse transposed the classical theme of the action to the Oriental splendour of the near East, embracing the theme of the odalisque which so continually fascinated him. Matisse had signed the contract for the illustrations of the book in April 1930, while he was in Tahiti. However, within a short time, he and the publisher had come to an agreement which involved illustrating Stéphane Mallarmé's poems, a great favourite of the artist himself. This would, on its publication in 1932, become Matisse's first artist's book, launching a new development that would see him subsequently creating illustrations for a number of books in collaboration with publishers.