The present work belongs to a series of charcoal portraits executed between1943 and 1946. Matisse, fascinated by exotic physiognomies as well as by Oriental decoration, used several West Indian women as models. In choosing sitters of non-Western ethnicity, he followed the Orientalist tradition that has its origins in 19th Century French culture. Inspired by his journey to Morocco in 1912-13, he painted exotic costumes and lavishly ornamented interiors throughout his career. In the present work, Matisse depicts the woman in an elegant, highly stylised manner, creating a powerful image with an assured, free flowing line.
The charcoal contour delineating the model is enriched with the estompe technique, giving the figure a strong, almost sculptural presence. During the 1920s, charcoal and estompe became Matisse’s preferred medium when working on paper, using erasure to remove the rough charcoal surface and to create texture. Pierre Schneider described Matisse’s estompe method: ‘the blurred traces of the erased drawings were a kind of foundation, a soil in which new forms could be rooted and from which they could draw strength... Each drawing was a phoenix rising from the ashes’ (P. Schneider, Henri Matisse, Paris, 1984, p. 579). The result is in this case a drawing of extraordinary presence.