A photo-certificate from Wanda de Gubriant dated Paris, 12 September 1987 accompanies this drawing. This drawing is archive number I102.
The present drawing depicts a woman named Monique Bourgeois whom Matisse met in Vence in 1942. Bourgeois was in Vence to finish her nursing studies and took care of him during one of his illnesses soon after they became acquainted. They met again in Vence at the end of 1943. Matisse had fled there from Nice, which was under the threat of evacuation; Bourgeois had returned to Vence to receive treatment for tuberculosis. She became a valued member of the small community, dividing her time between the rest home there and spending time with the town children. She would often visit Matisse, and in admiration of her features, Matisse asked her to pose for him. Her likeness can be found in paintings such as L'idole, La jeune fille la robe verte et des oranges, and Le tabac royal, as well as in drawings such as the present work.
As Louis Aragon recounted, "Then one day Monique B. came to tell her great friend Matisse, before anyone else, that she was taking the veil She became Sister Jacques-Marie" (L. Aragon, op. cit., p. 183). She joined the order of the Dominican nuns, who had nursed her in the convalescent home. As Sister Jacques-Marie, she was instrumental to Matisse being chosen to create the decorative scheme for the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, and also in the realization of the project.
Mademoiselle Monique B. is a captivating portrait of this young woman. Her serene, oval-shaped face looks out at an oblique angle and her arms and the pleats of the blouse create a series of curves that contrasts with the striped background. Of portraiture Matisse said, "My modelsare the principal theme in my work. I depend entirely on my model, whom I observe at liberty, and then I decide on the pose which best suits her nature. When I take on a new model, I intuit the pose that will best suit her from her unself-conscious attitudes of repose, and then I become slave of that pose. My plastic signs probably express their souls, which interests me subconsciously, or what else is there? Their forms are not always perfect, but they are always expressive. The emotional interest aroused in me by them does not appear particularly in the representation of their bodies, but often rather in the lines or the special values distributed over the whole canvas or paper, which form its complete orchestration, its architecture" (quoted in J. Flam, Henri Matisse: A Retrospective, New York, 1988, p. 328).
In this work, as in many of his drawings, Matisse combines sharp incisive lines with blended areas of shadow and tone. As Pierre Schneider has observed:
[His] other method was just as original--it was a way of combining the hand and the arrow -- but Matisse does not seem to have commented on it. It consisted in rubbing out or blurring a drawing done in charcoal or pencil, using a stump, rag, eraser, or even a thumb. Over the indistinct forms of the erased drawing, the artist then made a new sketch. Successive states were thus superimposed, one on top of the other, each one partly covering over the previous sketch. The blurred traces of the erased drawings were a kind of foundation, a soil in which new forms could be rooted and from which they could draw strength--before being replaced, in turn, by a new form or sign. (P. Schneider, Henri Matisse, London, 1984, pp. 578-579)