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Henri Matisse (France 1869‑1954)

Portrait de femme – study for ”Les Fleurs du Mal”

To be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale: Modern & Contemporary 19-20 May 2021

Lot 621 Henri Matisse (France 1869‑1954). Portrait de femme – study for ”Les Fleurs du Mal”. Stamped with the initials HM lower left. Red chalk on paper, 32 x 24 cm (paper).

Executed in Vence 1944.
Georges Matisse has kindly confirmed the authenticity of this work.
A photocertificate of authenticity signed and dated by Wanda de Guébriant Paris 27/2/97 is included. This work is recorded as no. J376 in the artist’s archive.


600.000 – 800.000 SEK
€ 59.000 – 79.000


Estate of the artist.
Lumley Cazalet Ltd., London.
Jerry Solomon Gallery, New York.
Fabian Carlsson Gallery, Marbella.
A Swedish Private Collection, acquired from the above in 2001.


Claude Duthuit, Henri Matisse: Catalogue raisonné des ouvrages illustrés, 1988, the lithograph and poem illustrated p. 138.

In context

Henri Matisse’s striking “Portrait du femme”

In the summer of 1944, Henri Matisse began the project to illustrate “Les Fleurs du Mal”, a collection of poems published by the French poet Charles Baudelaire. Today one of his most celebrated and infamous works, Baudelaire’s poems left the crowd in chock when they were first released. Many of them were erotic and daring, unusually explicit at the time, and they were faced with deeply divided opinions. In a government report published in 1857, the book was described as “an act of defiance in contempt of religion and morality”. On the other hand, Victor Hugo praised the poems by suggesting; “Your ‘flowers of evil’ are as radiant and as dazzling as stars.” As a result of the overly negative response to “Les Fleurs du Mal”, Charles Baudelaire was prosecuted for “offending public and religious morality” in August 1857.

Many years later, Matisse undertook the project of presenting Baudelaire’s poems in a new way. In total, he illustrated a selection of 33 poems from “Les Fleurs du Mal”. The complete book consisting of lithographs, each placed together with a poem, was completed in 1947 and published by La Bibliothèque Française. Most of his striking drawings depicted female faces, which Matisse considered humorous in contrast to the erotic theme of the poems. ”This isn’t what one generally expects from illustrations of this poet. One easily imagines a series of women with their legs open in more or less contorted positions” (Matisse, quoted in Matisse’s Poets, p. 143). Apart from the portraits of women, Matisse drew the faces of Charles Baudelaire and the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, but also a self-portrait with his characteristic glasses and bold head. The poets almost became reflections on Matisse himself, as he identified with the figure of the poet on a contemporary principle – the identification of the artist in his art.

The illustrations for “Les Fleurs du Mal” were executed with only a few lines, yet they are strikingly elegant and radiate a noticeable strength. Matisse drew his female portraits from models and managed to convey both their facial features and personalities. The drawing facing it evokes each poem’s spirit and together, they become a unity of verbal and creative expression. Matisse added his own designs at the end of each poem and he wrote the capital letters that begin them, almost transforming them to images instead of letters. The artist declared: “the drawing should be the visual equiva – lent of the poem”.  “Portrait de femme” included in this sale is a study for “Les Fleurs du Mal”, where Matisse used red chalk to draw the face. Common for Matisse’s many portraits is a strong presence, often a result of his smudging and erasing to create texture. The art of drawing fascinated Henri Matisse throughout his life, and became particularly dominant in his works from the 1930s and 1940s. Compared to oil painting, drawing enabled a greater freedom and it liberated him from the rigours of an exact representation. Instead, it allowed him to express feelings and experiment with a looser style. In “Notes from a painter on his drawing” from 1939, Matisse discussed the advantages of drawing that allowed him to:  ”consider the character of the model at the same time as the human expression, the quality of the ambient light, the atmosphere and everything that can be expressed by the drawing” (John Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, London, 1984, p. 84). The present drawing from 1944 is a vibrant example of Matisse’s last years working as a painter. Only a few years later, he traded the brush and easel for scissors and began to work primarily with paper cut-outs. in these late works, he found a way to further simplify the line.

When the threat of bombardment threatened Nice in 1943, Henri Matisse travelled to Villa Le Rêve on the outskirts of Vence. Matisse settled down and worked until 1948 in the picturesque southern French landscape, while his wife and daughter stayed in Paris. By Matisse’s side was the studio assistant Lydia Delectorskaya, who helped him to prepare for work and decorate his studio. During the years he spent in Vence, the artist completely transformed his atelier and covered it in paper cut-outs and paintings, as well as textiles and green plants. Matisse’s late works, including this red chalk drawing, demonstrate his painterly technique at its full maturity. Even until his last days, Matisse painted with an everlasting enthusiasm and expressed in his works a sheer joy. Picasso frequently visited his friend Matisse in his studio at Villa Le Rêve and was inspired by the vigour and intensity shown in Matisse’s later works. In May 1947, Matisse wrote: “I’ve got several works in progress. I’m full of curiosity, as when one visits a new country. For I’ve never before advanced this far in the expression of colors” (Pierre Schneider, Matisse, New York, 1984, p. 650).

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