The late Wanda de Guébriant confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Drawn in 1923, this work dates from Matisse’s stay in Nice, a city whose exoticism, light and energy provided a wonderful source of inspiration for the artist. By this date, Matisse had taken up residence at 1 place Charles-Félix, an apartment of flamboyant décor further accentuated by the artist’s own collection of paintings, ethnic masks and textile hangings. The subject of this portrait is indubitably Henriette Darricarrère, the artist’s favored model of the time.
Matisse’s interest in the odalisque began on his first trips to Algeria and Morocco in 1906 and 1912-1913 respectively, where he was influenced by the brilliance of light and vivacity of color. The theme of the harem captive became a central motif of Matisse’s oeuvre during the 1920s; imagery plucked from his own imagination, evoked the Orientalist subject matter of his revered predecessors Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Eugène Delacroix. “Yes, I had to catch my breath, to relax and forget my worries, far from Paris,” Matisse recalled in a 1952 interview with André Verdet. “The Odalisques were the bounty of a happy nostalgia, a lovely vivid dream, and the almost ecstatic, enchanted days and nights of the Moroccan climate. I felt an irresistible need to express that ecstasy, that divine unconcern, in corresponding colored rhythms, rhythms of sunny and lavish figures and colors” (quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse: A Retrospective, New York, 1988, p. 230). Matisse’s own fantasy is adeptly conveyed in the present drawing through the languid pose of the model, who reclines on the fauteuil rayé.
The artist’s employment of estompe, the rubbing of the charcoal lines with the blunt end of a rolled-paper stick, allowed him to simultaneously explore subtle nuances in Henriette’s character, as well as the luminous quality of light that surrounded her, in a way he felt was only possible in his drawings. This powerful chiaroscuro effect accentuates the contrast between light and shade thus lending substance to pictorial elements, particularly the rounded curves of a female form. This celebration of rich blacks, whites and graded shading radiates an intensity of light as powerful and evocative as any of the colors in the artist’s paintings.