One of 6 drawings created by Matisse in Vence, France in 1944 as a donation to the Swiss Red Cross. Drawn on a frontispiece spread of Thèmes et Variations (1943). Signed and inscribed by Matisse on the adjoining title page: “Exemplaires destinés, grâce á la bonté de la Croix Rouge Suisse, à des mains bienfaisantes, à des coeurs amis de notre France malheureuse… / Vence 10 mai 1944 / Henri Matisse / Exemplaire 4/6”. Translation: “Copies intended, thanks to the kindness of the Swiss Red Cross, for charitable hands, for dear friends of our poor France… / Vence May 10, 1944 / Henri Matisse / Copy 4/6”. Signed on the verso of the adjoining title page: “Henri Matisse”. Full sheet measures 12 7/8 x 19 3/8 inches.
During World War II Matisse chose to remain in France rather than leave his native country. Although the artist had an opportunity to leave shortly after the Nazis invaded Paris in June 1940, he decided to stay in Nice. He wrote to his son Pierre, “It seemed to me as if I would be deserting… If everyone who has any value leaves France, what remains of France?”. Matisse continued to live in Nice until 1943, when, as a precaution against Allied bombing attacks, he moved farther inland to Vence.
While Matisse was never a member of the French resistance, his family members were. Pierre, an art dealer in New York, helped Jewish and anti-Nazi French artists escape to the United States. Matisse’s estranged wife Amélie and daughter Marguerite were both active in the French Underground. In 1944 his wife and daughter were captured. Amélie was imprisoned for six months, while Marguerite was tortured (almost to death) by the Gestapo and narrowly escaped a prison train bound for the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany.
Matisse’s letters from 1944 indicate that he was receiving much of his information about his wife and daughter through the help of the Swiss Red Cross. In an April 1944 letter to his friend Henry de Montherlant, who was actively involved with the Swiss Red Cross, Matisse relates his intention to make a donation of artwork to the organization for the benefit of French children, including 6 dedicated copies of his portfolio of drawings, Thèmes et Variations (1943), enriched with original drawings.
The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Madame Marguerite Duthuit-Matisse. The drawing is accompanied by authentication and correspondence.
Provenance: The artist to the Swiss Red Cross by donation, 1944; to Private Collection, Boston, MA, acquired at an auction to benefit the Red Cross in London, circa 1944-45; to Private Collection, New York, NY with Childs Gallery, Boston as agent, 1974; by descent to Private Collection, New York, NY, 1997.