1869-1954 | French
Femme tournée vers la gauche, la tête reposée sur les avant-bras
(Woman Facing Left, Head Resting on Forearms)
Stamped with initials "HM." (lower right)
Pencil on paper
This exceptional work by the incomparable Henri Matisse exudes the purity of form and expressiveness one expects from this 20th-century great. Sensuous in its simplicity, the drawing reveals Matisse's dedication to the natural expression of beauty down to its very essentials. The drawing was part of an important 1935 series inspired by his principal model, Lydia Delectorskaya; perhaps the most significant of these is his Woman In A Purple Coat, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Lydia is equally alluring in the present portrait, her almond-shaped eyes and a hint of nudity enhancing her sensuality. It is a stunning example of the instinctive, unerring lines of Matisse's later works, which art historian John Elderfield declared to be "among the greatest achievements of his draughtsmanship."
With its avant-garde emphasis on negative space, the dramatically cropped portrait feels full, with the volume of Lydia’s body expressed through an ingenious use of white space. She is captured in a moment of repose, pensively resting her head in the crook of her arms. The positioning is not only reminiscent of Matisse's reclining odalisques of the 1920s, but also his 1935 Grand nue couchée (Baltimore Museum of Art), which represents the culmination of his explorations of the female nude. That work displays the same purity of form and economy of means that found its apogee in his line drawings such as Femme tournée vers la gauche, la tête reposée sur les avant-bras.
Matisse was renowned throughout his career for his versatility as an artist, and his vast oeuvre encompasses painting, drawing, sculpture, graphic arts, paper cutouts, and book illustration. Perhaps one of art history's greatest draftsmen, he is today considered among the most influential artists of his era alongside Pablo Picasso, who was both a close confidante and friendly rival. His ability to see beauty in simplicity set him apart from his contemporaries and paved the way for the Abstract Expressionists, Minimalists, and Pop artists who followed him. Still relevant today, his body of work continues to form the basis of retrospectives and exhibitions at important museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Tate Modern (London), and Museum of Fine Arts (Boston). Rare and artistically significant, this extraordinary pencil work is an undeniable treasure from one of the very best artists of the modern age.
Georges Matisse has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Paper: 10 3/4" high x 14 1/2" wide
Frame: 18 3/4" high x 22 1/2" wide
The artist's estate
M.S. Rau, New Orleans