Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Jeune femme assise en robe grise

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Jeune femme assise en robe grise
signed and dated 'H. Matisse 42' (upper left)
oil on canvas
18¼ x 15 in. (46.3 x 38.2 cm.)
Painted in Nice, 16-30 November 1942
Anon. sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 17 November 1944, lot 103.
Maxime Blum, Paris (acquired at the above sale).
Georges Renand, Paris; sale, Drouot-Montaigne, Paris, 20 November 1987, lot 23.
Private collection, Europe (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 3 November 2008, lot 36.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
L. Delectorskaya, Henri Matisse: Contre vents et marées, Peintures et livres illustrés de 1939 à 1943, Paris, 1996, pp. 236, 428 and 551 (illustrated in color, p. 236, pl. 40; illustrated in color again, p. 428; titled Robe grise aux bandes violettes; incorrectly titled Robe blanche aux bandes violettes, p. 551).
Paris, Maison de la pensée française, Henri Matisse, July-September 1950, p. 22, no. 51 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Beaux-Arts, 1850-1950: Tableaux de collections parisiennes, April-May 1955, no. 69 (titled Femme assise; with incorrect dimensions).
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Cent tableaux de collections privées de Bonnard à de Staël, April-May 1960, no. 75 (titled Jeune femme en bleu).
Paris, Maison de la pensée française, 15 ans d'activités artistiques à la Maison de la pensée française, February 1962, no. 40 (titled Jeune femme en bleu).
Memphis, Dixon Gallery and Gardens, January-March 2009.
Please note Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed that the model for the present work is Simone 'Monette' Vincent and not Lydia Delectorskaya as suggested in our catalogue note.


Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.

Painted in November 1942, Jeune femme assise en robe grise belongs to a series of paintings treating single female sitters in patterned surroundings that Matisse began in his studio at Cimiez in Nice over the latter months of 1942 and continued into 1943 at the Villa Le Rêve at Vence, where he had moved to escape wartime bombardment. The works from the beginning of the series, such as the present painting, share a reduction of extraneous design, concentrating instead on primary hues and pointing towards the increasing purity of Matisse's late style. Over the following months the series developed into increasingly elaborate compositions, leading to the intense colors and flamboyant settings of the Vence pictures executed around 1945. Shirley Neilsen Blum has commented that "By 1942 Matisse routinely created brilliant pictorial light by juxtaposing one intense hue against another, forcing the colours to resonate" (Henri Matisse: Rooms with a View, London, 2010, p. 150).

Matisse had fallen seriously ill in 1941, spending the first half of that year hospitalized in Lyons. Despite his ill health, however, the final decade of Matisse's career was also one of great productivity. He recovered very slowly, but was nonetheless simply grateful to be alive. "It's been a terrible business," he wrote to his son Pierre. "It was immensely painful and I was resigned to the idea that I would never get off the operating table alive. So now I feel as if I have come back from the dead. It changes everything. Time present and time future are an unexpected bonus" (quoted in J. Russell, Matisse Father & Son, New York, 1999, p. 221). Matisse took as positive a view of his situation as he could manage. He wrote to the painter Albert Marquet in 1942, "My terrible operation has completely rejuvenated and made a philosopher of me. I had so completely prepared for my exit from life, that it seems to me that I am in a second life" (quoted in J. Cowart et al., Henri Matisse: Paper Cut-Outs, exh. cat., St. Louis Art Museum, 1977, p. 43). Likewise, he commented to his friend Jedlicka, "What I did before this illness, before this operation, always has the feeling of too much effort; before this, I always lived with my belt tightened. What I created afterwards represents me myself: free and detached" (quoted in ibid., p. 43).

"What the 1941 operation gave birth to was color," Pierre Schneider has asserted. "Color would now give itself over unreservedly to its potential, just as drawing had earlier surrendered to its potential" (Matisse, London, 1984, p. 650). Matisse declared: "Color above all, and perhaps even more than drawing, is a means of liberation... Color is never a question of quantity, but of choice... An avalanche of color has no force. Color attains its full expression only when it is organized, when it corresponds to the emotional intensity of the artist" (quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 155 and 156). "Colors are forces," Matisse affirmed, "They must be organized with a view to creating an expressive ensemble" (quoted in ibid., p. 162).

At the beginning of 1942, Matisse looked back to his decorative works from the early years at Nice, but rather than developing the decorative surfaces of his new pictures, he concentrated on the immaterial quality of the space, making images as flat as possible. Over the following months he executed a series of vibrant works depicting models in an interior seated in an armchair (fig. 1). In doing so, he continued to work with a subject that had fully occupied him since the end of the First World War. These interiors became for Matisse the territory within which he could explore fully his creed of expressive, sensual color and interest in paterning.

In the present work, Matisse constructed the subject through a variety of bold hues--contrasting the vibrant color of the wallpaper with its incised design against the softness of the gray dress and its violet stripes. Matisse was intensely interested in the attire of his models and had accumulated chests of costumes, which held, as Hillary Spurling has noted, "Moroccan jackets, robes, blouses, boleros, caps and scarves, from which his models could be kitted out in outfits distantly descended--like Bakst's ballet, and a whole series of films using Nice locations in the 1920s as a substitute for the mysterious East--from the French painterly tradition of orientalisation" (in Matisse: His Art and his Textiles, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005, p. 29). Matisse continually added to this collection, so that it required its own storage room when he moved to a new apartment in Cimiez, in 1939. There were the high couture dresses that Paul Poiret's sister had made for the artist's wife and daughter, a blue ball gown that had been created specifically for Matisse to showcase in his paintings, a group of Romanian blouses (which the artist made famous in a series of drawings and paintings, done in 1937; see fig. 2), and even six couture dresses that the artist picked up in an end-of-season sale in the Paris garment district.

The play of line and form in Jeune femme assise en robe grise is also noteworthy. The curving swoops of the sitter's striped dress are echoed in the rhythmically patterned wall behind her. Both of these elements are offset by the squarer geometry of her seat. "Do remember," Matisse told his students in 1908, "that a curved line is more easily and securely established in its character by contrast with the straight one which so often accompanies it. The same may be said of the straight line. If you see all forms round they soon lose all character. The lines must play in harmony and return, as in music. You may flourish about and embroider, but you must return to your theme in order to establish the unity essential to a work of art" (quoted in A. Barr, Matisse: His Art and His Public, New York, 1951, p. 551).

The sitter's aquiline features, neatly-coiffured bright blonde hair and elegant figure all suggest Matisse's model and assistant Lydia Delectorskaya (fig. 3). Lydia was born in Tomsk into the comfortable embrace of the professional classes of pre-revolutionary Russia in 1910. However, orphaned at the age of twelve, she fled with an aunt first to Manchuria to escape the civil war before eventually arriving in Paris. Here she joined a large band of Russians in exile, with Lydia making a disastrous year-long marriage at the age of nineteen and then falling for another feckless refugee. Lydia's new lover took her to Nice in the hope of finding a fortune. Soon, however, Lydia was forced to find work and it was in 1932 that she arrived at Matisse's studio applying for a vacancy as a studio assistant. At the beginning of her employment Lydia, her blonde looks and rangy physique at odds with Matisse's normal dark, curvaceous models, attracted little attention from the artist. Then, around 1935, Matisse began to recognize the painterly possibilities of Lydia's cool, haughty beauty. Works such as the great Nu rose of 1935 (The Cone Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art) make full use of the line of her elegant limbs. Over the subsequent twenty years her presence in the artist's studio--as not only model, but as muse, secretary and nursemaid--occupied a crucial role in Matisse's great Indian Summer.

Photograph of a wall in Matisse's apartment in the Hôtel Régina, late 1942-early 1943.

(fig. 1) Henri Matisse, Jeune fille en rose dans un intérieur, Nice, 5 October 1942. Ise Cultural Foundation, Tokyo.

(fig. 2) Henri Matisse, La blouse roumaine, Nice, December 1939-April 1940. Musée national d'Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

(fig. 3) Photograph of Lydia Delectorskaya. BARCODE 25239997

(fig. 4) Henri Matisse in the pièce au moucharabieh. May 1942. Photo: A. Ostier. BARCODE 25239980