Matisse exhibited his painting Le bonheur de vivre (coll. The Barnes Foundation) at the Salon des Indépendants in 1906. It was a groundbreaking composition that depicted sixteen figures. The girl with ivy in her hair seen standing at the far left is closely related to the present sculpture, for which Matisse used his daughter Marguerite as the model. Michael Mezzatesta notes: "Nu debout, les bras levés, shows the sensuous pose with arched back and protruding breasts of the earlier statuettes but also exhibits a new interest in an expressive, undulating contour, as seen in the sharp curve of the back, and the dimpled outline of the buttocks in Le bonheur de vivre's girl with ivy" (op. cit., p. 55). In a 1913 interview, Matisse explained his philosophy about the inter-relationship between sculpture and painting: "I like to model as much as to paint--I have no preference...If the search is the same, when I tire of one medium, then I turn to the other" (quoted in P. Schneider, op. cit., p. 51).
The pose of Nu campé, bras sur la tête reflects Matisse's interest in the exploration of the arabesque, an idea that he had also intoduced into his paintings during this period. The three dimensional format of sculpture allowed him to push his study even further. He was fascinated with the motif of the upraised arms, which may have been suggested by photographs that he found in Mes Modèles, a magazine for artists that he had used as the starting point for other sculptures from this period: Nu debout, très cambré (1904; Duthuit, no. 14) and La vie--Torse avec tête, 1906 (Duthuit no. 23; see lot 301).
Matisse's sculptural technique represented a radical departure from his contemporaries Aristide Maillol and Auguste Rodin. According to Pierre Schneider: "while there are precedents for Matisse's painting, there are none for his sculpture. He introduced transparency and lightness into a domain which seemed synonymous with all that was opaque and heavy" (ibid., p. 564). His rugged handling of the surface emphasizes the sculptural character of the work and underscores its movement and weight. Albert Elsen noted: "What Matisse's figures may lose in terms of the illusionist sensuousness of the subject...they gain in the sensuousness of the sculpture as an object. They address themselves both to the hand and to the eye. In the Standing Nude with Arms Raised, Matisse employed the classic standing beauty pose. Even more than his paintings, his modeled women acquire a coarseness or animalism because of their ruggedly sketched faces, enlarged buttocks and assertive breasts" (A.E. Elsen, op. cit., p. 69).
Sarah Stein, a student of Matisse and the wife of Michael Stein who partially financed an art school that Matisse ran between 1908-1911, published her notes from Matisses lessons as "A Great Artist Speaks to his Students." She quotes Matisse discussing the conception of a sculpture in the following terms: "...all the parts must go in a direction to aid the sensation. The legs work up into the torso, which clasps down on them. It must have a spinal column. One can divide one's work by opposing lines (axes) which give the direction of the parts and thus build up the body in a manner that at once suggests its general character and movement" (quoted in A.H. Barr, Matisse, His Art and His Public, London, 1975, p. 50).