Henri Matisse, ‘Femme aux mains croisées’, 1940, Bernard Jacobson Gallery

Femme aux mains croisées shows Matisse in decidedly linear mode, tracing, first with pencil and then with the thin and precise nib of a pen, the outlines of a young woman in a sleeveless dress, leaning her head dreamily against her folded hands. In spite of the (sometimes repeated) pencil underdrawing, when it came to the final pen line, the artist was quick and decisive, working with an almost continuous line and demonstrating the extreme facility he had developed by this stage in his drawings. Yet Matisse obviously enjoyed the contrapuntal rhythm created by the partial overlaying of pencil and pen lines, and used this to add body and colour to the drawing. This rarely-observed technique did have at least one counterpart in the great charcoal drawings created by the artist in which earlier versions of the same composition hovered halo-like in the background.
The model in this drawing is thought to be Micheline Payot, who sat for Matisse between November 1939 and 1940, and who was most famously captured in the painting, Dormeuse, table de violette (below), also from 1940. The identification with Payot is all the more likely given that the sitters in the painting and drawing share the same undulating hairstyle, which in the drawing is a great motive for Matisse’s Arabesque line.
Images of sleeping and dreaming women abound in the art of Matisse throughout his career, and although the artist was not known for his use of symbolism, it is tempting to see an affinity between these relaxed and relaxing images and the very aim of his art as he articulated it in Notes of a Painter (1908) : an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, … a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue. That art, for Matisse, occupied a privileged space apart from reality, a space for the imagination, is also underlined by this emphasis on the slumbering or day-dreaming figure. Such escapism was all the more poignant for being exercised after the outbreak of the Second World War, a large part of which Matisse spent in Nice. While other artists sought, with varying degrees of success, either to articulate the political realities of war, or, more pragmatically, to compromise the modernity of their style, particularly after the Occupation by Germany of France (from May 1940) – or even, which was more extreme, abandoned France for the United States - Matisse remained and continued to create his art without compromise. In January 1940, when Matisse drew Femme aux mains croisées, he was also recently separated from his wife of 40 years, after an argument over his new studio assistant, the Russian ex-pat, Lydia Delectorskaya, and again the separation of art and life was so complete that no hint of these tensions are apparent in this drawing.
(From the estate of the artist)

Signature: Signed with the artist's initials, lower right (recto) This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Wanda de Guébriant.

Bernard Jacobson Gallery, Matisse: Painting, Sculpture, Drawing, Prints, 2 June - 16 September 2017.

About Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse was a leading figure of Fauvism and, along with Pablo Picasso, one of the most influential artists of the modern era. In his paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, Matisse experimented with vivid colors, Pointillist techniques, and reduced, flat shapes. “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter,” he once said; his subjects of choice included nudes, dancers, still lifes, and interior scenes. Matisse’s animated brushwork and seemingly arbitrary application of bright colors, as in Woman with a Hat (1905), would prove foundational to Fauvism, while his similarly radical The Red Studio (1911) was a seminal, nearly monochromatic study in perspective. Later in life, physically debilitated, Matisse would turn to making bold, cut-paper collages. He has influenced a wide range of important 20th-century painters, from Hans Hofmann and Milton Avery to Tom Wesselmann and David Hockney.

French, 1869-1954, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France, based in Paris and Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France