Henri Matisse (1869-1954) Tête de Femme  16 1/2 x 12 3/4 in (41.9 x 32.2 cm) (Drawn in 1944)

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Lot 14
Henri Matisse
Tête de Femme 16 1/2 x 12 3/4 in (41.9 x 32.2 cm)

US$ 150,000 - 200,000
£ 110,000 - 150,000

Impressionist & Modern Art

17 May 2017, 17:00 EDT

New York

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Tête de Femme
signed with initials 'HM.' (lower right)
pen and ink on paper
16 1/2 x 12 3/4 in (41.9 x 32.2 cm)
Drawn in 1944


  • Provenance
    Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo.
    Private collection, Tokyo.
    Galerie Thomas, Munich.
    Private collection, New York.
    Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago and New York.
    Benrimon Fine Art, New York.
    Acquired by the present owner in 2012.

    The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Madame Wanda de Guébriant.

    'The character of a face in a drawing depends not upon its various proportions but upon a spiritual light which it reflects' H. Matisse, Jazz, p. 57.

    In the summer of 1939 Henri Matisse laid out his approach to drawing in a special edition of the journal Le Point. The text, entitled Notes of a Painter on his Drawing, was a conscious allusion to his canonical text Notes of a Painter, published in 1908. After a short preamble he comes to his point with a trenchant declaration: 'My line drawing is the purest and most direct translation of my emotion' (quoted in J. Flam, Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, p. 130). By this stage in his career, drawing had become a natural extension of his creativity, with mind, eye and hand acting in perfect harmony. Tête de femme is a thrillingly supple expression of this mastery.

    It is perhaps no coincidence that the summer of 1939 also saw Matisse reunited with Lydia Delectorskaya, who was to become his secretary, model and amanuensis for the rest of his life. It was Madame Lydia, as she became known, who made the tremendous late flowering Matisse's career possible. Although this drawing is titled generically, the long straight nose, heart-shaped face and glance of absolute intimacy instantly recall Lydia.

    Lydia Delectorskaya (1910-1998) was born in Tomsk, Siberia, daughter of a prosperous bourgeois family. She escaped the turmoil of the Russian Revolution through Manchuria, eventually arriving in Paris penniless and having lost both parents. Unable to afford the fees at the Sorbonne, where she had won a place to study medicine, she moved south to join the crowds that sought work in Nice. Her steely determination carried her through multiple jobs until in the autumn of 1932 she found a temporary position as an assistant in Matisse's studio. Her quiet efficiency swiftly attracted Madame Matisse, who took her on as a nurse and as nanny to her grandson. Matisse himself seems barely to have noticed her: his preferred models tended to be warm Southern types rather than icy Russians. Taking up his pencil by chance in 1935 he began to draw her, beginning a relationship that would bring forth more than 90 paintings.

    By 1939 the artist's relationship with his wife was irretrievably broken, and although he dismissed Lydia to placate her, Madame Matisse left anyway. Matisse recalled Lydia that summer, and in September they fled Paris and the impending war together: Lydia a refugee for a second time, and Matisse awaiting the third German invasion of France in his lifetime. The bond was to prove profound.

    Tête de femme dates from 1944, a tumultuous year even by the standards of the time. Matisse was still recovering slowly from the pulmonary embolism and the catastrophic surgery for a stomach tumor that he suffered in 1941. With Lydia and his small household he had retreated to Villa le Rêve at Vence in the hills above Nice: in the beginning of the year the basement was commandeered by German troops and by the end they were experiencing the ecstasy and chaos of liberation.

    Despite this, Tête de femme shows Matisse's calm fluency with the pen, and the searching intensity of his gaze, returned with deep feeling by his model. With the return of peacetime, Madame Lydia took her place as Matisse's factotum, marshalling his studio and making possible the painstaking process of pinning the kaleidoscope of colored cutouts that were to be the artist's last great gift.
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