In the late 1940s, Henri Matisse focused his artistic endeavors to color cut-outs and simplified brush with India ink works on paper. The drawings drew from a range of models and subjects pared down to the their very basic forms. He simply suggested basic features in his portraits-rough outlines of heads and minimal facial features. The portraits were essentially masques. Often Matisse’s forms bore quite little resemblance to his actual subjects. One model, Nadia Sednaoui, even commented how little resemblance the final work resembled her. Despite the minimal features, basic forms, an un-naturalistic representation, Matisse imbued his images, or rather symbols, with an immense emotive power.
Late in his career, the artist recalled an earlier and illuminating incident while waiting at a post office for his mother to call. He began to draw her portrait from memory and without paying particularly close attention to the pen on the paper. The result was not a naturalistic representation, but rather a more personal and insightful image. Matisse commented:
“Before the revelation at the post office, I used to begin my study by a kind of schematic indication, coolly conscious, showing the reasons for the interest that had sparked my interpretation of the model. But after this experience, the preliminary indication I have just mentioned was modified right from the very beginning. Having cleansed and emptied my mind of all preconceived ideas, I drew this preliminary outline with a hand completely given over to my unconscious sensations, which sprang from the model.” (J. Flam, Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, p. 221-22)
For Matisse’s India ink on paper drawings, he quickly applied the thick lush black ink in rapid gestures. The subjects become almost symbols floating on paper rather than individual people. Yet, the black symbols and masques still suggest a sense of the subject’s character.
While the cut-out had their corollary in printmaking with the Jazz portfolio, Matisse similarly executed a series of aquatints using a similar technique as his ink and brush works. Matisse was first introduced to the qualities of aquatint by the printer, Roger Lacourière, as a means to introduce color to his etchings. Ultimately, the artist only produced two aquatints in colors (see lots 96-97). However, he returned to the technique for his late portraits and masques. Matisse painted an India ink and sugar mixture onto the plate. Next, the printer added a ground and then immersed the plate in a warm bath to lift the sugar solution from the plate. Aquatint resin was then applied to create the areas meant to hold ink in printing. Through this technique, an artist is able to capture both the gestures of a brush and a greater tonality in the print. Ultimately, the aquatints were the perfect corollary to the India ink and brush drawings. Printmaking allowed him to produce a greater number of his last energetic burst of creativity.