Although Henri Matisse is best known for his advances as an expert draftsman and experimental colorist, he executed some of the most radical sculptures of the 20th Century. Despite the relatively small size and limited range of his sculptural production (he created only about eighty sculpted works in total, the vast majority of which were conceived between 1900 and 1910), Matisse's three-dimensional works manifest undeniable departures in the treatment of the human figure and the handling of the surface. Always emphasizing the essential nature of instinct and intuition in the creation of works of art, Matisse rendered images of figures which conveyed expressive form first and anatomical details only secondarily. This sensibility is evident not only in the painted and drawn works, but in his sculpted oeuvre as well.
The present work depicts the artist's daughter Marguerite, who was twenty-one years old at the time of its conception. As a young woman prior to her marriage in 1924, Marguerite had served as a secretary to her father. In the present work, Matisse presents a likeness of his daughter in a manner which alternates between sharpness and delicacy. Her head is expressively narrowed in a manner predictive of the Surrealist portrait busts created by Alberto Giacometti in the late 1920s. Amid the rugged modeling of the work's surface, great attention has been paid to the depiction of her facial features.
Of his sculpted works, Matisse wrote:
Express by masses in relation to one another, and large sweeps of line in interrelation. One must determine the characteristic form of the different parts of the body and the direction of the contours which will give this form. In a man standing erect all the parts must go in a direction to aid that sensation... One can divide one's work by opposing lines (axes) which give the direction of the parts and thus build up the body in a manner that at once suggests its general character and movement (quoted in A.H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: His Art and His Public, New York, 1951, p. 55).