Charcoal drawing by Henri Matisse – estimate €300,000-400,000 at Ivoire Manosque on June 26. Image: OEuvre de l’artiste : © Succession H. Matisse

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It was discovered by Ivoire Manosque’s auctioneer Jennifer Primpied-Rolland rolled up above a wardrobe where it had lain undiscovered for many years, its owner who had inherited it being unaware of its significance.

The work has a provenance to Matisse (at least until 1948); then a gift from the artist to an anonymous lady in Nice, then by descent to Sister Suzanne Mazar, a nun at the Minimes Convent in Mane, before passing down to the current owner.

The charcoal and stump drawing, which measures 2ft 2in x 20in (65 x 50.5cm) and is signed and dated 22/10/38, is a portrait of Hélène Mercier (Princess Galitzine), one of Matisse’s favourite models in the late 1930s.

The drawing is a preparatory study for a commission from Matisse by Nelson Rockefeller for Le Chant, a fireplace decoration for his penthouse in Manhattan, that depicted Hélène and her compatriot Lydia Delectorskaya, another of the artist’s favourite models at the time.

Research by the expert Agnès Sevestre-Barbé has revealed that the inscription on the reverse reading PH Vaux 2425 et 3116 – D19 corresponds to the numbering in the archives of the photographer Marc Vaux, who from the 1920s specialised in photographing sculpture, paintings and the artists themselves in their studios.

The drawing is estimated at €300,000-400,000 on June 26.