Lot 7
  • 7

Henri Matisse

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Henri Matisse
  • Etude pour 'Portrait au manteau bleu'
  • Signed Henri Matisse and dated  20 XI 35 (lower left)
  • Charcoal on paper
  • 26 1/8 by 18 1/2 in.
  • 66.4 by 47 cm


Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York

Richard S. Davis (acquired in 1958)

Private Collection (acquired by descent from the above)

Sale: Christie's, New York, November 15, 1989, lot 60

Aberbach Family

C&M Arts, New York

Acquired from the above


New York, C&M Arts, Henri Matisse: A Survey of Drawings, 1996, no. 28, illustrated in the catalogue


Pierre Schneider, Matisse, London, 1984, illustrated p. 580

Lydia Delectorskaya, With Apparent East... Henri Matisse: Paintings from 1935-1939, Paris, 1988, illustrated p. 80

Catalogue Note

 Etude pour 'Portrait au manteau bleu' is a prime example of Matisse’s employment of charcoal and estompe, or the method of erasing to create highlights. The technique enabled him to create supremely rich and luminous effects in the over-all composition, exploiting the range of tonality between the deep black charcoal and the white of the sheet.  John Elderfield has written the following about Matisse's success with this method of application and erasure: "Time and again Matisse would say the drawings should generate light…this was why charcoal and estompe – as well as lithography, which Matisse took up again in 1922 after eight years absence from it – were especially attractive to him.  Both media were particularly suited to an investigation of how tonal modeling could be reconciled with his longstanding concern for the decorative flatness of the picture surface.  They permitted him to create an extraordinarily wide range of soft, closely graded tones ranging from transparent, aerated greys to dense and sooty blacks, that appear to adhere to the flatness of the sheet, and to release especially subtle effects of light form the luminous whiteness of the paper.  What is more, the volumes thus created stay ‘light’ in feeling despite their solidity, and it was this ‘light, disembodied sense of volume that he sought in his paintings too’  (J. Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, New York, 1985, p. 85).

The model for the present composition is Lydia Delectorskaya, Matisse's Russian studio assistant who would serve an essential role during the later stages of the artist's career (fig. 1).  From May 1 until October 30, Lydia had modeled for and assisted Matisse with a major campaign of charcoal drawings in preparation for the grand canvas Nu rose, now in the Baltimore Museum of Art.  This was Matisse's first significant project with Lydia, who proved to be a patient sitter  and dutiful studio assistant throughout the six-month process.  The present composition, rendered less than a month after his work on the Nu rose series,  is the most detailed and refined of five known charcoals in preparation for Portrait au manteau bleu, painted in mid-December of that year (fig. 2).  Unlike the other examples from this series, Matisse draws Lydia's face twice, perhaps experimenting with how to capture the life in his sitter's eyes.