Lot 11
  • 11

Henri Matisse

500,000 - 700,000 USD
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  • Henri Matisse
  • Portrait de femme
  • Signed Henri Matisse and dated 8/43 (lower left)
  • Charcoal and estompe on paper
  • 15 3/4 by 12 in.
  • 40 by 30.4 cm


Pierre Matisse, New York

Private Collection, United States (acquired from the above in February 1963)

Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva (acquired from the above)

Waddington Galleries, London (acquired from the above in 1982)

Jan Krugier Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1988)


Geneva, Galerie Jan Krugier, Dix Ans d'Activité, 1983. no. 34

Humlebaek, Denmark, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Henri Matisse, 1985, no. 156, illustrated in the catalogue 

Catalogue Note

A combination of graceful, restrained lines and blended charcoal, Portrait de femme is a sensuous example of Matisse’s mature drawing style. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Matisse drew extensively, developing the estompe technique. This use of charcoal enabled Matisse to imbue his works with a masterful blend of smoky shadow and tremulous luminosity. The technique freed Matisse from the rigors of strict representation, creating a looser physicality that became an expression of feeling. He commented that for him drawing did “not depend on forms being copied exactly as they are in nature or on the patient assembling of exact details, but on the profound feeling of the artist before the objects that he has chosen, on which his attention is focused, and whose spirit he has penetrated” (quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, p. 179).

In the present work Matisse uses this technique to remarkable effect. The bust of the women is loosely sketched with bold, emphatic lines that are then given a dense materiality through the use of smudged charcoal. The emphasis is placed very firmly on the woman’s face and right shoulder; she fills and goes beyond the sheet, a radical cropping that can also be seen in the works of Edgar Degas and the Nabis, though the background here remains devoid of any detail. This interplay between the white space of the sheet and the drawn lines was one that preoccupied Matisse greatly, and was something he often addressed in his theoretical writings at this time. He described the role of his models in relation to this, explaining that they were “never just ‘extras’ in an interior. They are the principal theme of my work… The emotional interest aroused in me by them does not appear particularly in the representation of their bodies, but often rather in the lines or special values distributed over the whole canvas or paper, which form its complete orchestration, its architecture” (quoted in J. Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, London, 1984, p. 117).

The model for Portrait de femme was Monique Bourgeois, who initially responded to an advertisement Matisse issued in 1941, seeking a night nurse. Some time later, at the artist's request, she modeled for several oils and works on paper. By 1946 Bourgeois took vows and became Sister Jacques-Marie. Assigned to a post in Vence, in 1946 she showed Matisse, living in the same town, her thoughts for a stained glass window for her order's chapel. Within days Matisse took over the chapel design which was completed in 1951 and is now recognized as one of his late masterpieces.