Girl Playing at the Piano
Born 1869, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France
Died 1954, Nice, France
Charcoal on paper
17 3/4 x 21 3/4 in.
Accession date: 1989
The Dr. and Mrs. John J. Mayers Collection
This charcoal drawing is a preparatory study for the painting of the same name, which has been held in a private American collection since the 1940s. In these near identical works, Matisse depicted his model Henriette Darricarrère seated at his studio piano, wearing a striped blouse and surrounded by other studio props such as vases of flowers, sheets of music and patterned walls and flooring. In the drawing, he masterfully explores the possibilities of tonal modeling offered by the charcoal medium. Using charcoal and the white of the paper, he expertly presented a textured picture surface and areas of shading while allowing his strong sense of line to dominate.
Between 1917 and 1930, Matisse split his time between Nice and Paris, and is known as his Nice period. His artwork of this period was monopolized by the female figure or an odalisque dressed in patterned costume and staged in a luxurious, exotic interior of the artist’s own creation. Henriette was his most constant model during this time. A ballet dancer and musician, she was working as a movie extra when Matisse spotted her in the film studios of Nice. She modeled for 7 years, working up to 6 days a week for as many as 10 hours per day. By all accounts, she was not only an employee, but also part of the Matisse family–a second daughter to Matisse and his wife and sister to their daughter Marguerite. Born in northern France in 1869, Matisse began painting in his early 20s, studying art in Paris, after first pursuing a law degree. His reputation was established by the early 1900s and until his death in 1954 he was known for paintings, drawings, sculptures, book illustrations and paper cutouts dominated by the sensual properties of color and the concept of line as a means to explore shape, form and space.