Throughout this period Matisse was drawing extensively. Turning his attention to works in charcoal, Matisse experimented with the blended haze of the estompe (stump) technique of smudging using a tool of soft paper tightly wound into a stick. The smoky shadow and tremulous lustre of this method allowed Matisse to achieve a looser physicality and freedom to his drawing.
In “Deux femmes assises”, Matisse shrouds the models in an atmospheric mist of charcoal that disguises and elongates the contours of the figures. The liberty created by the estompe technique allowed Matisse to focus entirely on the “profound feeling of the artist before the objects he has chosen, on which his attention is focused, and whose spirit he has penetrated”. In ‘Notes of a Painter of his Drawing’ (1939), Matisse explained the "charcoal or stump drawing... allows me to consider simultaneously the character of the model, her human expression, the quality of surrounding light, the atmosphere and all that can only be expressed by drawing."
The strength and simplicity of line in this series of drawings is a precursor to the cut-outs that defined the final two decades of Matisse’s life.
First employed by Matisse in 1934, the young Russian émigré Delectorskaya was an essential part of Matisse’s artistic process until his death. Having fled the Revolution in 1917 for the south of France, she began to model frequently for Matisse from 1935 and inspired some of the greatest work of the period including ‘Large Reclining Nude’ (1935) (The Baltimore Museum of Art). Executed in July 1938, ‘Deux femmes assises’ marks the height of Delectorskaya’s influence in Matisse’s oeuvre before the rupture in his marriage in 1939. Despite Delectorskaya’s dismissal, the breakdown of the marriage was irreversible and the “ice princess”, as she was called for her long blonde hair and pale skin, returned to Matisse’s side.
The other model in this work is Delectorskaya’s young cousin Princess Hélène Galitzine, the daughter of Russian aristocrats Prince Serge Galitzine and Helen Ghijitzky. The pair modelled together for several years during the late 1930s for significant works such as ‘La Musique’ (1939) and the Nelson Rockeller commission 'Le Chant' (1938).
Estate of the artist
Pierre Matisse, New York (the artist's son; by descent from the above)
Private collection, New York
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Jan Krugier, Switzerland (acquired from the above in May 2001)
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Henri Matisse: Dessins et Sculpture, 1975, no.104 (illus.)
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, La Passion du Dessin. Collection Jan et Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2002, no. 149 (illus.)
Vienna, Albertina, Goya bis Picasso. Meisterwerke der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2005, no.117 (illus.)
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Das Ewige Auge - Von Rembrandt bis Picasso. Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2007, no.150 (illus.)
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Matisse 1917-1941, 2009, no.59 (illus.)
C. Zervos, 'Dessins récents de Henri Matisse', Cahiers d'Art, 1939, p.9 (illus.)
L. Delectorskaya, …l’apparente facilité… Henri Matisse, Peintures de 1935-1939, Paris, 1986, p.264 (illus.)