Executed in July 1942, at his residence at the Hôtel Régina in Nice, the present work forms part of a series of celebrated works that demonstrate Matisse's innate ability to capture the nuances of facial expression with only a deft few strokes.
The sitter for the present work is fashion model Simone 'Monette' Vincent, to whom Matisse was introduced the same month this work was completed. Drawing Simone on several occasions, Matisse warmed to her greatly and showed his appreciation by giving this portrait to her as a gift. Her smiling, assured expression reveals the intensity of Matisse's penetrating gaze. His sitters were ‘never just extras’ in an interior but rather the principal theme of the 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 John Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, London, 1984, p. 117). The sinuous ink lines exhibit Matisse’s unfaltering touch; flowing intuitively and without interruption, they perfectly encapsulate her inclined head and natural gaze.
The work is an intimate observation of an individual, a charming portrait that captures a true sense of character. The image bears the hallmark of the artist’s brevity of emphatic line, successfully depicting Simone’s glinting eyes, wavy hair and pleasant smile. Matisse viewed the art of portraiture as one of the most remarkable art forms and he is widely regarded as one of the twentieth century’s most innovative and gifted draughtsman.
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