Sunita, whose real name was Amina Peerbhoy, was a Kashmiri woman who, together with her son Enver and sister Anita, had run away from her family in India to start a new life in London and Paris. Smith's fellow artist and friend, Sir Jacob Epstein, first met Sunita in 1924 at the British Empire Exhibition, where her and Anita were running a stall. Epstein invited her, Anita and Enver to live with him, which they did from 1925 until 1931 in Guildford Street, Holborn.
All of Smith's paintings of Sunita were produced in his studio at 10 Passage Noirot, Paris, which the artist occupied intermittently from 1929 until spring 1933. Sunita, who was almost six feet tall, was the artist's most important model at this time. She was a very imposing, statuesque figure, and Epstein described her as having a 'melancholy gravity', which he transcribed into his many busts and drawings of her. (J. Epstein quoted in A. Keene, exhibition catalogue, The Two Mr Smiths The Life and Work of Matthew Smith, London, Barbican Centre, 1995, p. 53).
The nature of Sunita's relationship with Smith is unknown, but the pictures of her, as in the present work, express a strong sensuality. Adopting a palette of rich green, blue and red, the artist renders the physicality of flesh and cushions and drapes. Paintings of her cease around spring 1933, and Sunita herself may have disappeared rather abruptly about this time. Matthew said she was called home by her family who had come to realise the kind of life she was living.
The yellow screen in the right foreground of the present work is the same as that which appears in Model Waking (1931), which was first in the collection of Epstein and then later belonged to Roald Dahl.