The year 1952 was an extremely productive one for Matisse, in which he executed a large number of paper cut-outs, the dominant theme of which was the female nude, a favorite subject throughout his career. In April of that year Matisse executed four paper cut-outs for his series Blue Nudes. Originally entitled Baigneuses (Bathers), it is possible that Matisse had initially intended to include them in the problematic upper-right corner of his larger work-in-progress, The Parakeet and the Mermaid.
The cut-out technique Matisse was evolving allowed him to study the human figure from a new perspective. The four Blue Nudes relate closely to his work in sculpture. As with the bronzes, these works focus on the joints and complex crossings of arms and legs; translated into cut-paper, they show extreme foreshortening of the artist's line.
Matisse had used variations on this pose throughout his career in his paintings and sculptures. However, he probably felt it necessary to reacquaint himself with various aspects of the nude figure before rendering it in cut-paper. Thus, he made numerous drawings in ink, graphite and colored pencil, particularly focusing on the relationships between the elements of the figure, and, in turn, the figure to the proportions of the paper. These drawings were published in 1955 in a facsimile edition by Huguette Bers--Berggruen et Cie.; the order of the drawings in the sketchbook is chronological and allows one to follow the development of the Blue Nude theme. The present drawing, the fifth in the sketchbook, most closely relates to the third Blue Nude cut-out.