After four years of painting in small hotel rooms during his winter stays in Nice, in 1921 Matisse rented an apartment at 1, place Charles-Félix. His model during the period 1920-1927 was Henriette Darricarrère, who was 19 years old when Matisse spotted her posing as a dancer at a local photography studio.
During her seven years of modeling, Henriette excelled at role-playing and had a theatrical presence that fueled the evolution of Matisse's art. Earlier Lorette and Antoinette had initiated the exotic odalisque fantasy, but it was Henriette whose personality seems to have been the most receptive. She adopted the subject roles more easily and could express the moods and the atmosphere of Matisse's settings without losing her own presence or her strong appearance. (J. Cowart, "The Place of Silvered Light: An Expanded, Illustrated Chronology of Matisse in the South of France, 1916-1932," Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice, 1916-1930, New York, 1986 [National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. exhibition catalogue], p. 27)
During the mid-1920s Matisse executed numerous compositions using musical instruments--a piano, violin, guitar or mandolin--as part of the setting. The present drawing is closely related to another charcoal study, in which Henriette wears a formal dress and has propped her chin on her right hand; the guitar and decorative rug also appear in the painting La femme en jaune, 1923 (see G.-P. and M. Dauberville, Matisse, Paris, 1995, no. 547).
Matisse's drawings from the Nice period are no less notable for their shimmering light than his vibrantly colored canvases.
Time and again Matisse would say that drawings should generate light... This was why charcoal and estompe...were especially attractive to him. Both media were particularly suited for investigation of how tonal modelling would be reconciled with his long standing concern for the decorative flatness of the picture surface. They permitted him to create an extraordinarily wide range of soft, closely graded tones, ranging from transparent, aerated greys to dense and sooty blacks, that appear to adhere to the flatness of the sheet, and release especially subtle effects of light from the luminous whiteness of the paper. What is more, the volumes created stay 'light' in feeling despite their solidity, and it was this 'light', disembodied sense of volume that he sought in his painting too. (J. Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, London, 1984 [Arts Council of Great Britian exhibition catalogue], pp. 84-85)
Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the autheniticity of this drawing, which is recorded as no. V65 in the Henri Matisse archives.