Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
On 21 November 1937, Matisse commenced work on Le jardin d’hiver (Deux personnages féminins et le chien), the first of three important multi-figure compositions he went on to complete in his Nice studio before the beginning of the Second World War. Le Chant, 1938, a mantelpiece decoration for Nelson A. Rockefeller’s New York apartment, and Le guitariste, 1939, completed this trilogy, in which Matisse evoked the pleasures of domestic leisure and cultured pursuits during the period that proved to be the final years of the Third Republic. Lydia Delectorskaya, Matisse’s studio assistant and favorite model, documented the progress of each of these paintings in dated photographs.
The painting of the two pensive women lounging in their sun-filled winter garden was already nearly three months in the making–Matisse had experienced in January 1938 a near-deadly bout with influenza—when on 11 February he drew the present Étude, depicting Lydia in the pose of the left-hand figure, but attired in the sheer-back and -shoulders silk gown worn by the woman seated at right. Several days later, in two more drawings, the artist essayed alternative poses (see L. Delectorskaya, op. cit., 1988, p. 255; one sold, Christie’s New York, 1 November 2011, lot 6). On the strength of the present study, Matisse confirmed the leaning pose already in place for the woman at left, while retaining as her attire the haute-couture blue dress in which he initially depicted her.
Acclaimed for his pen-and-ink line drawings, Matisse around 1937 turned increasingly to working in charcoal with a stump (estompe, a thick paper stick used to blend the strokes), with which he could render and shade contours while suggesting volumetric form. These charcoal drawings became the artist’s most important tool in preparing for his paintings, especially those with complex compositions. In his 1939 text Notes of a Painter on his Drawing, Matisse explained that the “charcoal or stump drawing…allows me to consider simultaneously the character of the model, her human expression, the quality of surrounding light, the atmosphere and all that can only be expressed by drawing” (quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 130-132).
Line and color conventionally functioned separately in painting; Matisse, however, sought to create in his paintings of the late 1930s a synthesis of the graphic and chromatic means at his disposal. “This led Matisse to shift his attention to charcoal drawing, where line coalesced from areas of tonal shading,” John Elderfield observed. “This, it seems, could help bring back line and areas of color more closely together” (The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh. cat., The Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1984, p. 118).
Matisse considered Le jardin d’hiver finished on 3 March 1938, and sent the painting to Paris to be photographed for inclusion in the magazine Verve. Following the return of the canvas to Nice, the artist resumed working on it, making significant alterations to adjust the harmonization of colors, before finally declaring the picture complete and definitive on 25 May 1938, more than six months after he began it.