Galerie Daniel Malingue, Paris
Private collection, France
Lydia Delectorskaya, Henri Matisse, Contre vents et marées Peintures et livres illustrés de 1939 à 1943, Paris 1996, illustrated page 537
This painting is sold with a certificate of authenticity signed by Wanda de Guébriant and M.G. Duthuit, Paris, November 1981.
Henri Matisse was a French draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, but is known primarily as a painter. He was born December 31, 1869 in the northern French town of Le Cateau to a family of Flemish origin. Matisse’s artistic career had a rather unlikely start, as he first began to paint as a twenty-year-old law clerk convalescing from appendicitis. A year later he had abandoned law and was studying art at the Académie Julian.
At the Académie, Matisse became a student of William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painting still lifes and landscapes in a traditional style. His art training classes consisted of drawing from plaster casts and nude models and copying paintings in the Louvre, where Matisse was particularly influenced by the works of earlier masters such as Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Nicolas Poussin, and Antoine Watteau. He was also influenced by modern artists, such as Édouard Manet, and by Japanese art. However, it wasn’t long before he was pushing the boundaries of the school's conservative atmosphere and began replacing the dark tones of his early works with brighter colors. Afterwards he trained with Gustave Moreau, an artist who nurtured more progressive leanings.
In 1896 and 1897 Matisse visited the Australian painter John Peter Russell on the island Belle Île off the coast of Brittany. There he was introduced to Impressionism and to the work of van Gogh, a friend of Russell. This visit had a profound impact on Matisse’s style. In 1896 Matisse exhibited five paintings in the salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, two of which were purchased by the state.
Matisse’s first solo exhibition took place in 1904, without much success. He then spent the summer of 1905 working with Andre Derain in the small Mediterranean seaport of Collioure. There they began experimenting with bright colors and forms, which would lead to the style known as Fauvism, characterized by its spontaneity and roughness of execution as well as use of raw color straight from the palette to the canvas.
Later, Matisse moved on from the concerns of Fauvism and turned his attention to studies of the human figure, shifting from painting to drawing, sculpture and other forms of artistic expression. John Elderfield quotes Matisse’s 1939 essay "Notes of a Painter on his Drawing" to explain how the artist’s charcoal drawings "allowed him to study the character of the model, the human expression, the quality of surrounding light, atmosphere and so on." (John Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, London, 1984, p. 122).
He had many favorite models, including the model for this drawing, noted by the title as Michaela. Although little is known about her, she evidently sat for Matisse on a number of occasions in the early 1940s. This drawing seems directly related to, and was perhaps a study for, the important 1943 painting Michaela. The painting was exhibited by Matisse at the Palais de la Méditerranée in 1945 where it met with outrage, causing Pierre Matisse to write reassuringly to his father.
Our drawing shows the model Michaela seated, gazing directly and sultrily out at the viewer. Her arm rests confidently on the chair, a sense of vitality exhibited in the fluidity of the drawn lines. She wears a simple dress, necklace and fashionable coiffeured hair style, all created with simple lines but also an almost tangible sense of depth and three-dimensionality. Charcoal drawings were an important part of the artist’s creative process, and this fine example highlights his mastery of the estompe (blended charcoal) technique.