Grand Odalisque à la Culotte bayadère, the most monumnetal of the odalisque prints, is the perfect encapsulation of the artist's aim to inspire an atmosphere of luxe, calme et volupté. The model is Henriette Darricarrère, Matisse's favourite sitter, and although he had explored the theme with other models, it was through her that his fantasy became most successfully realised.
Henriette's heavy brow, sensuous mouth and penetrating gaze are characteristics that make her instantly recognisable, despite the numerous theatrical guises in which she appears throughout Matisse's work from this period. During the 1920s the artistic colaboration between artist and model blossomed. She was immediately at ease clad in opulent Eastern fabrics. This was important to Matisse, who remarked of the women who sat for him: 'They are the principal theme in my work. I depend entirely on my model whom I observe at liberty, and then I decide on the pose which best suits her nature. When I take a new model, it is in complete relaxation that I can see the pose that will best suit her, and to which I am then completely committed....' (H. Matisse, Notes d'un peintre sur son dessin, quoted in Susan Lambert, 'Matisse Lithographs', Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1972).
The composition of the present lithograph in which the model, swathed in diaphanous material, is seated in a heavily decorated chair, one leg raised and tucked beneath the other, fascinated Matisse, also appearing in many of his oil paintings from this period. The textiles stand out in these paintings for their vivacious colours; however it is in his lithographs that we truely see his fascination with pattern. Matisse returned to lithography throughout his career, but it was in the 1920s that he produced his most fully realised and sumptuous prints. The malleable, painterly effects of the lithographic technique are well suited to recreate the soft play of light across the differing textures of Henriette's languid body and the intensely patterned clothes and chair.
As well as being suggestive of the East, the contrasting designs imbue the print with varying rhythms; the ordered regularity of the voluminous culottes is set against the sinuous floral drape, creating a stark contrast with the smooth bare flesh. Through these patterns, an image of a beautiful semi-naked woman becomes the embodiment of luxurious sensuality, evocative of a heady and exotic world, an Orient of the mind.