Artist: Henri Matisse (French, Le Cateau-Cambrésis 1869–1954 Nice)
Medium: Charcoal on paper
Dimensions: 25 3/4 x 20 in. (65.4 x 50.8 cm)
Credit Line: The Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Collection, 2002
Accession Number: 2002.456.45
Rights and Reproduction: © 2017 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
In autumn 1938, Matisse was commissioned to design an overmantel decoration for Nelson A. Rockefeller's New York apartment. The final painting portrayed four female figures, interacting in pairs and grouped on two levels. The present sheet is one of a number of preparatory studies Matisse made between November 16 and December 6, 1938, that work out particular components of the decorative scheme. Here, he depicts two seated female figures from the top section. They languorously lounge on chairs while listening to the song being performed by a woman, not seen in this drawing; in the final composition, the singer stands beneath them at lower right. Reflecting the effects of the music, the women are defined with arabesque lines and graceful curves, set against an exotic background of large fan-shaped leaves. In a separate vignette on the page, Matisse sketchily outlines the form of the mantelpiece to provide a context for the scheme developed above.
The drawing is expertly executed in the charcoal-and-stump technique favored by Matisse at the time and frequently employed since his early student years. With this method, the charcoal is blotted out and carefully smudged across the paper, creating soft gray shadows that play against the reworked black contours. Together, these elements add a sense of three-dimensionality to the figures and setting, so unlike the flatness of the finished oil painting.