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'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).
Henri Matisse was one of the greatest draughtsmen of the 20th century, a tireless innovator who sought to capture the world around him with a deliberate economy of means. In the various works being offered here, the rhythmic curlicues and sparing, assured lines with which he has brought to life the landscape at his home in the South of France, a still life arrangement or his favourite theme, women, reveal a master at work. And, as he had said, the labours involved are deceptively hard to detect: instead, the works have a lyricism and fluidity that speaks of the apparent ease of his drawing.
Matisse created a visual language perfectly suited to the atmosphere of sensuality and beauty that he sought to communicate. While one of the works dates from 1927 (see lot 250) and reveals his fascination with the world of North Africa and Orientalism, most of these pictures were created during the 1940s, including La lecture (see lot 244). It was at the beginning of that decade that Matisse, a notoriously dissatisfied perfectionist, began to appreciate his own works. In 1942, he wrote that, 'For a year now I've been making an enormous effort in drawing. I say effort but that's a mistake, because what has occurred is a floraison after fifty years of effort (Matisse, quoted in J. Golding, 'Introduction, pp. 10-18, Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh.cat., London & New York, 1985, p. 16).
That several of these were created against the backdrop of the Second World War reveals Matisse's own unique form of resistance during the period. He opted not to leave France, but to continue living in the South, creating works that were pools of beauty, sensuality, harmony and hope. He was a beacon of optimism, and it is a tribute to his gesture that Louis Aragon, then a fugitive member of the resistance, wrote the preface for his 1942 book Dessins: Thèmes et variations. 'In those days, people will say, they did at least have Matisse, in France, he explained. 'At the darkest point in our night, they will say, he made those luminous drawings (L. Aragon, Henri Matisse: A Novel, Vol. 1, trans. J. Stewart, London, 1971, pp. 143-44).
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF SHARYN BEY