Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Executed in July 1947, Tête d'une jeune fille perfectly demonstrates the supreme elegance of Henri Matisse's line drawings, as well as his fascination with the face as subject matter. In Tête d'une jeune fille, he has used bold lines of ink, applied in a manner reminiscent of calligraphy, to conjure the woman's features, her hair, headwear and even the floral patterning of her clothing. This has been rendered with what appears to be great ease, revealing Matisse's own dictum: 'I have always tried to hide my own efforts and wished my works to have the lightness and joyousness of a springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labours it has cost' (Matisse, quoted in L. Delectorskaya, With apparent ease... Henri Matisse: Paintings from 1935-1939, trans. O. Tourkoff, Paris, 1988, p. 85). That sense of 'lightness and joyousness' is heightened in Tête d'une jeune fille by the artist's restraint: he has left enough of the support in reserve that it exudes its own luminescence. In this way, Matisse has deftly used the picture surface as part of his pictorial arsenal. At the same time, it adds a radiance to the features of the woman herself: 'The character of a face in a drawing depends not upon its various proportions but upon a spiritual light which it reflects' (Matisse, quoted in J. Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh.cat., London & New York, 1985, p. 101).
Matisse spent the beginning and end of 1947 in Paris, and while he did not enjoy the cold of the winter, this was a time of great cultural release following the deprivations of the Second World War and he was struck by the artistic blossoming that was taking place there, with various great exhibitions taking place, showcasing both the old and the new. That spring, he had returned to his home in Vence, and remained there for some time.
It was during this part of 1947 that Matisse created a series of broadly-rendered brush and black ink drawings depicting the head of a young girl with her hair twisted into a modest but youthful braid upon her head, creating a rythmic pattern that is echoed in her ornate blouse adorned with flowers and zigzag collar. This young girl was the model for several of Matisse's 1947 paintings, including his celebrated series of pictures Le silence habité des maisons of two women in front of a window, such as the two on this subject now in the Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania. It was also during 1947 that Jazz was published. Tête d'une jeune fille therefore dates from a highly important period in the artist's career: on the one hand, he now had global recognition, and on the other remained an important force of innovation, constantly pushing himself to find and perfect the means of pictorial expression; this is clear in the lyrical, even musical rhythm to the annotation-like marks with which Matisse has depicted the features in Tête d'une jeune fille.