Lot 12
  • 12

Henri Matisse

3,500,000 - 5,500,000 GBP
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  • Henri Matisse
  • signed Henri Matisse (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 55 by 82cm.
  • 21 5/8 by 32 1/4 in.


Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris
Hugo & Martha Nathan (née Dreyfus), Germany & Switzerland (acquired by 1930)
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above through Justin K. Thannhauser in February 1947. Sold: Christie's, New York, 6th November 2001, lot 51)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Berlin, Galerien Thannhauser, Henri Matisse, 1930, no. 48
Frankfurt, Städel Museum, Vom Abbild zum Sinnbild, 1931, no. 159
Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, La Pintura Francesa, 1939, no. 180
Uruguay, Museo Montevideo, 1940
Universidad de Chile, Faculdad de Bellas Artes, 1940
Rio de Janeiro, Museu Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1940
San Francisco, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, The Paintings of France since the French Revolution, 1940-41, no. 146 (titled Woman with Black Shawl)
Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Masterpieces of French Art, 1941, no. 105 (titled Woman with Black Shawl)
Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, The Painting of France, 1941, no. 90 (titled Woman with Black Shawl)
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art (on extended loan 1941-46)
Palm Beach, Norton Museum of Art, Matisse in Transition: Around Laurette, 2006


René Huyghe, Histoire de l'art contemporain, Paris, 1934, fig. 124, illustrated p. 109
Guy-Patrice & Michel Dauberville, Matisse, Paris, 1995, vol. I, no. 199, illustrated p. 609


The canvas is lined. There are scattered tiny spots of retouching in the upper left quadrant, spots of retouching along the upper framing edge, a vertical hairline of retouching running from the centre top and two small spots of retouching in the light blue pigment in the lower right, visible under ultra-violet light. Otherwise this work is in good condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although the brown and greens in the background are deeper in the original.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

A magnificent example of Matisse's favourite subject – a reclining woman in an interior – Femme couchée was probably painted in the artist's studio on the Quai Saint-Michel in Paris. The period when this work was executed was marked by a transition in Matisse's painting, moving away from the hard-edged, Cubist-inspired style towards a more romantic, opulent manner that would soon reach a culmination during his years in Nice. Wrapped in a Spanish-style shawl, the semi-nude model is depicted in a state of dreamy abandon, the voluptuous contours of her body tantalisingly visible under the translucent fabric. The artist chose to depict her reclining on a vividly coloured and highly patterned sofa, a feature that would become Matisse's trademark throughout his career.


The subject of Femme couchée is the Italian model Lorette (or Laurette), who began posing for Matisse in 1915. Hilary Spurling wrote about her role in the artist's work: 'It was Lorette who liberated (or was liberated by) Matisse. Together they embarked on a series of experiments that would open up new directions in his work for another decade and more. [...] From now on Lorette unfolded, becoming confident, expressive and adaptable. She had a theatrical gift for transformation, switching from ethereal purity to luxuriant abandon, seeming to change mood, age, even size as readily as she tried on costumes. [...] She dressed up for Matisse as a flirtatious Spanish señorita in a black lace mantilla, put on a white turban and a Turkish robe to become the distinctly European inmate of an Oriental harem, and impersonated a Parisian cocotte [...] She released in him an observant gaiety and speedy, casual attack suppressed in years of strenuous sacrificial effort. He painted her energetically from odd angles and in exotic outfits, but mostly he returned to her simplest pose, seating her facing him in a plain, long-sleeved top and improvising endlessly inventive rhythmic variations on the central theme of her strong features, heart-shaped face and the black ropes of her hair' (H. Spurling, Matisse the Master, London, 2005, pp. 198-201).  


The image of a semi-nude female model reclining against a colourful background was a precursor to the theme of Odalisques (fig. 2), one of the most sumptuous and fascinating series of Matisse's œuvre. He started painting the Odalisques in the early 1920s, several years after he executed the present work, and their exotic costumes and lavishly ornamented interiors evoke the artist's travels in Morocco in 1912-13. As Matisse himself proclaimed: 'The Odalisques were the bounty of a happy nostalgia, a lovely, vivid dream, and the almost ecstatic, enchanted days and nights of the Moroccan climate. I felt an irresistible need to express that ecstasy, that divine unconcern, in corresponding colored rhythms, rhythms of sunny and lavish figures and colors' (H. Matisse, quoted in Jack Flam (ed.), Matisse: A Retrospective, New York, 1988, p. 230).


Writing about the series of Odalisques, Elizabeth Cowling commented: 'In painting his make-believe harem scenes – nothing could be less authentic than the heteroclite mix of fabrics, costumes, furniture and bric-à-brac – Matisse sought to personalise and modernise the hackneyed Orientalist subjects which had first come into vogue during the Romantic period. Delacroix's sumptuous Women of Algiers was of paramount importance to this enterprise and in the sum total of the Nice odalisque paintings numerous echoes of it can be heard, particularly in those where the model is dressed in Moorish costume' (E. Cowling, Matisse Picasso (exhibition catalogue), Tate Modern, London, 2002, p. 221). The depiction of Lorette in a dreamy, yet provocative state, her exotic garment, the richly coloured and patterned background, and the overall atmosphere of sensuality and abandon, are all elements strongly evocative of the series that would follow soon afterwards, and make Femme couchée a beautiful and highly accomplished work.





Fig. 1, Henri Matisse, Lorette allongée enveloppée dans un châle, 1918, oil on canvas, Norton Simon Art Foundation, Pasadena

Fig. 2, Henri Matisse, Odalisque allongée, 1926-27, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York