From the early 1920s Matisse was focused upon one of his most celebrated themes – the odalisque. The present work, ‘Femme Couchée’, comes from the end of artist’s ‘Nice Period’, which was filled with intimate depictions of the female figure, interiors and still lifes. This series is now considered to be amongst the artist’s most iconic bodies of work and epitomises Matisse’s depictions of the human figure.
In 1912 and 1913 Matisse had travelled to Morocco and became enamoured by the ‘exotic’ surroundings. The ‘Orient’ had long fascinated artists, with Ingres and Delacroix painting scenes of erotic harems decades previously. Inspired by his travels, Matisse’s Orientalist work - such as the present drawing - is a display of decadence and sensuality.
In ‘Femme Couchée’ the woman languishes on soft pillows, the curves and weight of her body mimicking that of the cushions. Decorated in fine jewels, Matisse juxtaposes the hardness of the stones against that of the softness of flesh. ‘Femme Couchée’ recalls Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces, such as Titian’s ‘Venus of Urbino’ where the nude is similarly reclined and wearing only jewellery.
Line was at the core of Matisse’s practice, describing how “drawing is the purest and most direct translation of my emotion. The simplification of the medium allows for that”. His drawings were seldom studies for paintings, and when he did create preparatory sketches they were always executed as works in their own right. Here he draws the figure twice contrasting his detailed approach on the right with the simplified figure on the left. The pure line drawing gives an insight into Matisse’s practice, as one follows the decisive and assured rhythm of his hand.
Many of Matisse’s other odalisque drawings from his late ‘Nice Period’ are now in important collections such as his 1928 ‘Odalisque in a Moorish Chair’ at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and ‘The Three Friends’ also from 1928 which is Musée National d’Arte Moderne, Paris.