In the process of creating five busts of Jeanne Vaderin between 1910 and 1916, Matisse radically reconfigured traditional representation of the human face. Jeannette I and II were created directly from the model, which is evident in their characteristic, hawklike profiles. These two works then served as templates for Jeannette III, IV, and V. As he progressed with the series, Matisse dramatically abstracted his subject, organizing the head into increasingly simplified chunks. In 1908 he explained that his goal in portraiture was not to achieve visual precision but rather to reveal the "essential qualities" of his sitters—qualities, he felt, that physical imitation could not capture.
Gallery label from 2010.
Over the summer of 1916 Matisse brought many of his most ambitious works to conclusion, including Jeannette (V). Its severity and formal and psychological concentration set it apart from its predecessors, but these qualities open onto something more extreme—a primal, atavistic power well beyond the traditional protocols of portraiture. Matisse began Jeannette (V) from the plaster cast of Jeannette (III) rather than the more recent Jeannette (IV), perhaps imagining it as an alternate final composition. He removed the clump of hair while adding mass to the brow, carving lines from the hairline down the bust, and elongating the neck. The compacted mass and weight of the forms produce a dense, unified final work.
Gallery label from Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917, July 18–October 11, 2010.