The late Marguerite Matisse-Duthuit confirmed the authenticity of this work in 1980.
‘I have always seen drawing not as an exercise of particular dexterity, but above all as a means of expressing intimate feelings and descriptions of states of being…’
‘Charcoal 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’
Henri Matisse executed Femme assise à la robe de taffetas in 1938 during a period when he was completely immersed in the practice of drawing. Living and working in Nice in the south of France, by the end of the 1930s, Matisse was effortlessly moving between two distinct and innovative modes of draughtsmanship: pen and ink drawings and increasingly, charcoal drawings, which he often used as studies for paintings. A masterful example of the latter practice, Femme assise à la robe de taffetas presents a woman majestically enthroned in a chair and adorned in a voluminous taffeta dress. As in his paintings of the same time, in this work Matisse has clearly revelled in the lines and forms of the diaphanous fabric of the dress, employing the soft, loose nature of his medium to capture his seated model.
At the time that he created Femme assise à la robe de taffetas, Matisse was happily ensconced in a productive daily routine that consisted of painting in the mornings, and drawing in the afternoons. Having mastered the pen and ink technique, in 1937 he turned to charcoal. While the line drawings allowed for few corrections or amendments, consisting of single, fluid and immediate lines, with charcoal, Matisse could work and rework his marks, adding, erasing, smudging and blurring to achieve a sense of volume, subtle tonal modulation and movement that is absent in the line drawings. In Femme assise à la robe de taffetas, the final image of the seated woman emerges from a web of pentimenti, conjuring the sensation of movement and brimming vitality. Indeed, it appears as if the model has just raised a hand or turned her head, the fleeting moment and gesture made eternal with his web of lines.
Femme assise à la robe de taffetas is one of a large number of drawings and paintings from the late 1930s that were devoted to the motif of the female model. Set in highly decorative interior scenes, these paintings saw the artist immerse himself in a world of bold pattern and colour, as he pictured his models in ornate costumes and dresses. Matisse frequently used charcoal to prepare for these paintings. In his own words, he explained, ‘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’. He went on to describe his approach to the model: ‘The emotional interest they inspire in me is not particularly apparent in the representation of their bodies, but often rather by the lines or the special values distributed over the whole canvas or paper and which forms its orchestration, its architecture’ (Matisse, quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 130-131).