Matisse had been spending the winter months of each year in Nice since 1916. In 1920 he was fifty years old, and Galerie Bernheim-Jeune held an exhibition of his recent Nice paintings. As a sort of anniversary present to himself, Matisse persuaded his dealer to publish a book of fifty recent drawings (one for each year). The result was Cinquante Dessins par Henri Matisse (op. cit.), which the artist selected and placed in sequence.
The timing was entirely appropriate, for Matisse realized that in these drawings he had arrived at a new level of mastery.
Each of these drawings is typical in its own way of the changed character of Matisse's draughtsmanship in the early Nice period. The visible difficulty diappeared, and with it the sense either of disquiet or of heroically reconstituted harmony. Matisse had already produced as great (in fact, greater) drawings than these, but never such utterly assured ones. There are some weak sheets in Cinquante Dessins, but the best of these drawings are truly superb. It is as if a major craftsman in the art of drawing, previously unknown, had suddenly appeared. No longer is this a 'difficult', avant-garde form of draughtsmanship; rather, an accessible, traditional and, technically, extraordinarily accomplished one. Luxury, calm and voluptuousness--and especially calm--are back in control of Matisse's art, and they are simply enjoyed as they had never been before. (J. Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, The Arts Council of Great-Britian, exhibition catalogue, 1984, p. 75)
The most famous series of drawings in this sequence are those of his model Antoinette Arnoux (see lots 278 and 382) in a plumed hat. Matisse had actually fabricated the hat himself with feathers and ribbon, using a store-bought straw foundation. With her rounded face, small, full lips and delicately-shaped nose, the model here is probably Antoinette (she is featured in most of the Cinquante Dessins); and Matisse may well have constructed the hat in this drawing by using the same straw foundation with the addition of roses. The composition is notable for its pronounced diagonal axis, reinforced by the faint outlines of the chair, the contours of the model's arm and tilt of her hat. The design is effortless, and balances the movement of large shapes with finely-wrought detail.
Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this drawing.