Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this drawing.
One of his most dynamic drawings, Etude pour La France, demonstrates Matisse's prolific skills as a draughtsman. From the heavily worked surface and intense, expressive lines, Matisse's preoccupations with his future are clearly evident. When the present drawing was completed at the end of 1939, Hitler had not yet invaded Paris, though war was imminent for France. Residing in the secluded coastal city of Nice, even Matisse could sense the rumblings of war approaching. Etude pour La France conveys the anxiety plaguing Matisse and is very much the prototype of his later painting, La France (fig. 1). Finished just after France declared war, this painted iteration makes explicit the undertones of the earlier charcoal drawing. From the title, it is clear that it depicts a personification of the nation who proudly wears the French Tri-Color on her skirt. La France is adorned with a decorative headdress as she reclines in a bentwood caned chair, unfazed by the daunting future ahead of her country.
Etude pour La France reflects Matisse's emotional upheaval after the return of his ailing, estranged wife, Amélie. After two decades of seclusion in Paris, Amélie Matisse arrived in Nice and demanded that her husband pick between her and Lydia Delectorskaya, his studio manager and principle model. In a matter of days, Matisse's quiet residence at La Régina became the frontline of in-fighting. Forced to choose, the artist picked his wife, though she left him some short months after. Alone, Matisse found solace in a lively spirited model named Micheline Payot who would model for the present work.
Matisse took immense pleasure in rendering Micheline's form in the present drawing, using quick gestural strokes to capture the undulating sensuousness of her body. His study in charcoal exaggerates the curvature of Micheline's hips, which echo her voluminous sleeves. By altering and often redrawing her figure, Matisse creates an elusive outline for Micheline that reverberates as if she is active, perhaps even dancing.
(fig. 1) Henri Matisse, La France, 1939. Hiroshima Museum of Art, Japan.