A photo-certificate from Wanda de Guébriant dated Paris, 26 May 1983 accompanies this drawing, which is recorded in the artist's archives.
Although Matisse drew in pen and black ink throughout his career, he executed very few broadly-rendered ink drawings after his Fauve period until the 1940s, when he turned to brush and black ink to create a series of drawings that equal the achievement of his richly-shaded charcoal drawings of the same period. Matisse himself referred to "the special quality of brush drawing, which, through a restricted medium, has all the qualities of a painting or a painted mural. It is always colour that is put into play, even when the drawing consists of merely one continuous stroke. Black brush drawings contain, in small, the same elements as coloured paintingsthat is to say, differentiations in the quality of the surfaces unified by light" (quoted in ibid.).
Matisse made his last finished sculpture in 1950, and his last painting in 1951. After working on the murals for the Vence Chapel, independent drawings --other than those in brush and ink-- are rare. This is due largely to the fact that, during the early 1950s, Matisse was forced to spend most of his time in bed as a result of chronic illness. He often drew on paper attached to the walls and ceiling of his apartment with a charcoal or brush attached to the end of a long stick. These drawings present an even more simplified, colorless counterpart to the paper cut-outs, in which form and line are stripped to their barest essentials. There is no modeling, and detail is kept to a minimum. The naturalistic proportions of the visage are sacrificed in favor of an energetic and rhythmic sense of line.
The confident curled strokes of the figure's hair and mouth in particular reflect Matisse's interest during his last years with the arabesque form. During April and May 1952, poet and essayist André Verdet interviewed Matisse at his home in Cimiez, in the south of France. Among the topics of their conversation was the arabesque, which Matisse declared to be the most synthetic means of linear expression. In answer to Verdet's question "Why are you in love with the arabesque?" Matisse responded: "Because it's the most synthetic way to express oneself in all one's aspects. You find it in the general outline of certain cave drawings. It is the impassioned impulse that swells those drawings Look at these blue women, this parakeet, these fruits and leaves. These are paper cutouts and this is the arabesque. The arabesque is musically organized. It has its own timbre" (quoted in J. Flam, Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, p. 210).
Essential to the masterful expression of the present drawing is Matisse's bold and active use of the full breadth of the paper ground; the bold lines are pushed to the very limits of the sheet, yet feel in no way forced; they activate its brilliant white ground. According to Elderfield, these last drawings "render pictorial the whiteness that surrounds them, giving to what Matisse called this 'white atmosphere,' a sense of dazzling light from the reflected radiance of their colour. This is neither drawing nor painting, though it partakes of both. And while, at times, we miss drawing as we miss painting, we can hardly argue with the magnificence of the synthesis Matisse is able to create in the grandest of these last works" (Elderfield, op. cit., p. 132).