In 1921, Henri Matisse rented an apartment at 1 Place Charles-Félix in Nice where he began to create what John Elderfield has called his "dream world," imbued with the Orientalist atmosphere of Delacroix and Ingres. With furnishings and textiles, Matisse made an exotic environment in which he drew and painted models, including members of his family. Figures are often shown playing musical instruments surrounded by an atmosphere imbued with luxuriance and languorous delight. As in the present work, Matisse dressed his sitters in sumptuous gowns and situated them in brilliantly lit and extravagant surroundings, as if their musical accomplishments mirrored his search for an ideal world of earthly delights.
The sense of the theatrical, as well as the sheer delight in outward display, was what in part drew Matisse to these subjects, posed in their pampered insouciance. Discussing a comparable work from his Nice period, Matisse recalled, "Everything was fake, absurd, terrific, delicious." (quoted in P. Schneider, Matisse, London, 1984, p. 516).
In 1921, the year in which the present work was rendered, Elie Faure wrote, "Whether Matisse paints a portrait, a still life, a landscape, or nude women dancing, the arabesque is always there, dominating in order that it may direct, master, and give shades or subtlety to the harmony, whose rhythm comes from it, and with which it plays, as a bow draws forth from the string, sonorous waves which it swells and contracts" ("L'Art Moderne, 1921," quoted in J. Flam, op. cit., p. 200).