Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Matisse executed this Danseuse in the luminous tones of pastel at the height of his early period in Nice. This work is distinctive on two counts. The first is the subject. While Matisse often depicted his models in the Orientalist garb of the odalisque, or the haute couture of Paris fashion (see lot 6), he rarely cast them in the role of a dancer, that is, the kind that had traditionally attracted artists, the ballet dancer. This picture's second claim to rarity is the medium itself. Matisse was quite adept at drawing in pastel, but he worked in this medium infrequently. The present pastel in one among only several that have come to public sale during the past two decades.
The occasion for this subject is closely connected with the the identity of the young woman seen here clad in a ballerina's leotard, tutu, tights and toe shoes. She is Henriette Darricarrère, the artist's favorite model during the early and mid-1920s. When Matisse first encountered her in September 1920, she was being photographed as a dancer in the Studios de la Victorine, one of the lots in the suburbs of Nice which Charles Pathé and the Gaumont brothers were hoping to develop into a complex of cinema studios that would become the European film industry's answer to Hollywood. Henriette began to pose for Matisse intermittently, and then replaced the artist's previous model, Antoinette Arnoud, in the spring of 1921 when the latter had become visibly pregnant. Hilary Spurling has described Henriette, a who was then twenty years old:
"[Matisse] picked her out initially for her innate dignity, her athlete's carriage, the graceful way her head sat on her neck. Henriette was younger and steadier and less worldly than her predecessor, which meant she fitted in far more easily with the Matisse's highly unconventional existence. She was a dancer and violinist, a trained musician with natural gifts as a painter, talents Matisse encouraged in her as in his own children" (in Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Matisse, Volume Two, New York, 2005, p. 241).
Matisse soon cast Henriette in the role of an odalisque, dressing her up in the bits and pieces of North African and Near Eastern apparel that he had been collecting over the years. Spurling has noted that "None of his earlier models ever made an Oriental costume look like anything but fancy dress. It was Henriette, so neat, even prim in her street clothes, who wore the filmy open blouses and billowing low-slung pants without inhibition, becoming at once luxuriant, sensual and calmly authoritative" (ibid., p. 243).
Henriette had a natural gift for modeling, and she eagerly responded to the demands that Matisse placed on her, both in terms of the roles he asked this budding actress to play, and the long hours and exhausting effort he required from her. More than any model Matisse had previously worked with, she seemed interested in his work, and her understanding of his aims made her a sympathetic and effective partner in his studio enterprise. In appreciation for her efforts, Matisse may have taken time out from his odalisques to draw this pastel, in which he briefly allowed Henriette the freedom of a role she most loved to play, that of being a dancer (fig. 1). Jack Cowart has written:
"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 atmosphere of Matisse's settings with losing her own presence or her strong appearance. Her distinctive physical features--a sculpturesque body and finely detailed face with a beautiful profile--are evident in many of the artist's paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. Eventually Henriette would marry and leave, but her modeling established a remarkable impression on Matisse's art" (in Matisse: The Early Years in Nice, exh. cat., The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1986, p. 27).
Matisse had been spending the winter seasons in Nice since 1917, lengthening the duration of his stay with each year as he found it increasingly difficult to tear himself away these congenial surroundings, the radiance of the Mediterranean light, and the pull of his new work, which had grown more sensuous and saturated with color. For the first few years he lived and worked in small hotel rooms, but in September 1921, he decided he it was time he should become more a resident than a visitor, and he rented a full-size apartment at 1, place Charles-Félix. Cowart has pointed out that "The taking of the place Charles-Félix apartment was a major step in personal, physical, and creative attachment that would bind the artist to Nice and the Côte d'Azur until his death thirty-three years later" (op. cit., pp. 29-30).
Matisse's first rented apartment was on the west end of the third floor in this four-story building. He kept these rooms until late 1926 or early 1927, when he moved to an apartment on the top floor. It was in the third-floor apartment that he drew the present pastel. He had placed in the main studio room a low rug-covered platform, and around it he set up various movable wooden frames to which he affixed the textile hangings that served as backdrops in his paintings. There are two photographs that show Henriette posing on this platform during the mid-1920s in a full-length ballet skirt; the one reproduced here (fig. 2) shows her in a seated posture very similar to that in the pastel, with one leg extended before her, and the other curled under. The space in this studio room looks very cramped; Matisse is seated only a few feet from his model, with his back to a worktable on which can be seen the plaster version of his sculpture Henriette (I) (Duthuit, no. ______).
This remarkable photograph also shows two key decorative elements that appear in the background of La danseuse and may also be seen in other paintings. There is a multi-colored striped wall hanging, probably of North African origin, and also one of the best-known of all Matisse's floral patterned textiles, thanks to its appearance in the artist's masterwork of the mid-twenties, Figure décorative sur fond ornamental, which Matisse began in 1925, not long after he drew this pastel, and completed in spring 1926 (fig. 3).
Matisse capitalizes in La danseuse on all of the unique qualities of his chosen medium, the pastel stick, using its brilliant, tinted tones to create an airy, light-filled picture. In his late compositions of dancers (fig. 4), Degas liked to dampen the pastel as he applied it, and lay one color over another so that they might even blend into a thick paste of hybrid tones. Matisse, however, was careful here not to mix his colors, lest he sully the purity of their tones, and he instead applied them in separate strokes laid side by side. This simple technique allowed him to achieve maximum chromatic contrast, while using the warm tone of the paper to unify the shimmering effect. The result here is even more evanescent than was possible with oil paint. While these are different means, Matisse employed them to the same end, which Dominique Fourcade has described:
"All of Matisse's research during these first years in Nice arrives a new unity of the surface: human beings and objects are not treated differently than floors or walls on the painting's surface. Matisse progressively abolishes all pictorial distinction between the apparent subject of his paintings and the background of these same paintings. He resolves this subject background in terms of space... and resolves the problem of space in terms of light. Each parcel of the painting's surface is a site of color... and each site of color becomes a source of light, combined with all the other sources of light on the canvas, create a wholeness of light and space" (in exh. cat., op, cit., 1986, p. 55).
(fig. 1)Henriette Darricarrère on the fourth floor balcony, 1 place Charles-Félix, Nice, around 1927. Photo courtesy Mme Claude Houpert. BARCODE 25013092
(fig. 2) Matisse drawing his model Henriette Darricarrère in his studio at 1, place Charles-Félix, Nice, circa 1925. Photograph courtesy Cahiers d'Art, Paris. BARCODE 26019383
(fig. 3) Henri Matisse, Figure décorative sur fond ornamental, 1925-1926. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. BARCODE 25013108
(fig. 4) Edgar Degas, Two dancers in yellow and pink, circa
1900. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires. BARCODE 25013078