The 1920's was Matisse's most important decade for printmaking. It was then that he produced his most fully realized and sensuous lithographs, often choosing subjects that reflected those of his paintings--exotic odalisques in sumptuous settings.
Grand odalisque à la culotte bayadère is Matisse's most elaborate and finely detailed depiction of his favorite model, Henriette Darricarrère, in the guise of an odalisque. This extraordinary lithograph captures the almost photographic effect of light playing across the model's body and contrasts the bold stripes of the figure's trousers with the sinuous flowers on the armchair. There is a complex dialogue here between the textures of the model's skin, the silky fabric of her clothing and the heavy drapery that covers the chair. Such detail and oppositions are typical of these vivid, thoroughly modeled compositions which are more detailed than any of Matisse's other mature works.
The entry of Henriette into Matisse's artistic life was of great significance. She served as Matisse's primary model throughout most of the 1920's, and came to embody the artist's Nicoise paintings and prints from 1920 through 1927. The artistic chemistry between these two personalities had a profound effect on the work that Matisse created during the seven years that Henriette modeled for him. Her skillful role-playing and theatrical presence fueled the evolution of his art. Although Matisse had begun exploring the odalisque theme with other models, the fantasy reached its pinnacle with Henriette as its inspiration. She seemed to have the ability to slide from guise to guise without ever losing her own presence and distinctive features. Matisse chose a slightly different angle each time he depicted her; whether she is reclining in Le Repos du modèle (lot 111) or Odalisque au collier (lot 114), or Nu couché au paravent Louis XIV (lot 115), or relaxing in an armchair in Grande odalisque à la culotte bayadère, her fine features are always evident. Even in the whimsically abbreviated Odalisque voilée (lot 120) her signature dark eyes and brow, sensual mouth and sculptural body clearly identify her.
Matisse often stated that the aim of his art was to create an atmosphere of luxe, calme et volupté which would inspire pleasure in the viewer. The nude was clearly a crucial motif in this aim--the artist confessed that what interested him most in art was neither still life nor the landscape, but the human figure, and it was through the female figure that he was able to express his "nearly religious feelings toward life". Matisse's lithographs of Henriette as an odalisque embody Matisse's fantasy of the romantic allure of the Far East and fulfill his ambition to communicate voluptuousness and sensuality to the viewer.