Between 1907 and 1911 Matisse executed a series of portraits in which he experimented with various figure/background relationships. Among them, this painting is distinctive for its complex interplay between figure and ground, which compete for dominance yet are formally linked. The pendulous curve of the sitter's chin is repeated in the embroidery of her robe and in the contour of the sculpture behind her. The freedom of the paint handling and coloration provides a foil for the model's static, frontal pose. Her face, a chalky pink, pointed oval, gazes out with clear eyes, revealing nothing of the sitter's personality. She is but one element in a many-faceted composition.
It is the joyous, audacious color of this portrait, however, that makes the initial impact. Matisse took his Fauve palette and made it richer, denser. Complementary colors are abutted, closely hued areas are juxtaposed. The arcing black outlines, which in Matisse's later work would take on a life of their own, intermittently delineate features and set off the brilliant pigments.