After 1916 Matisse spent an increasingly large part of each year in Nice. At first he rented hotel rooms: he favored the Hôtel Mediterranée et de la Côte d'Azur on the Promenades des Anglais by the sea. The clutter from his painting supplies and props must have made for very tight quarters, but it was not until September, 1921 that Matisse rented a full-size apartment at 1, place Charles and Félix, with two rooms he could use as studios.
The present painting was done in his room at the Hôtel Mediterranée. The model is possibly Antoinette Arnoux, whom the artist first painted in 1918 and who had since become his favorite subject. She conveniently wore her hair short in front and long behind her ears; the artist could paint her with a variety of hairstyles. Or she is perhaps one of Antoinette's sisters. She is probably the same model who appears in Femme assise, peigne espagnole, 1919-1920 (see J. Cowart, Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., exhibition catalogue, 1986, p. 25, fig. 22), where she wears the same loose-fitting striped Moorish-style robe known as a gadoura. Antoinette is depicted full-length in this garb in the drawing Sleeping Figure (La Gadoura) (see J. Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, Arts Council of Great Britain, exhibition catalogue, 1984, p. 178).
In his ground-breaking study Making Modernism: Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth Century Art, Michael Fitzgerald places Renoir high on the list of influences that propelled Picasso into a classical style after World War I. It is significant that Matisse visited the elderly, ailing Renoir twice in 1917 and 1918. On the latter occasion, Renoir voiced disappointment with Matisse's new work done in Nice, complaining specifically about his use of black as a color. Matisse nevertheless admired the older master, and acquired his paintings (as did Picasso), seeing in him a connection to the grand nineteenth century tradition.
In its small size and quickly brushed features, the present work is not unlike the many small spontaneous studies of family members and local young women that Renoir made in his late career. Indeed, both artists share the same sense of sensuality and feminine beauty. One important difference is, of course, in the palette, and here Matisse makes characteristic use of black as an integral color, the very color that prevented Renoir from enjoying Matisse's paintings of the period.
Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.