A masterpiece of book illustration, Jazz is the only publication of which Matisse was both author and illustrator.
The present example is particularly desirable as the plates, with their delicate colour, are fresh and unfaded.
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Henri Matisse, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, refused to leave France after the outbreak of World War II. In 1940 German forces overtook Paris, and his daughter and son participated in the resistance movement.
In 1941 Matisse was diagnosed with cancer and became bedridden following surgery. His household moved from the city of Nice in 1943 to escape the threat of Allied bombing. That same year, at the age of 74, Matisse began Jazz, a much-celebrated portfolio of works characterised by brilliant colours, poetic texts and joyful circus and theatre themes.
The works represent the great artist’s lifelong unflagging creativity. Limited in his mobility, Matisse could not paint or sculpt. Instead, he cut out forms from coloured papers that he arranged as collages. His assistants then prepared the collages for printing in a stencil process referred to by the French term pochoir.
Matisse worked on the series for two years, with the act of cutting shapes from brightly coloured sheets of paper linking in a single process both drawing and colour, two important elements in Matisse’s work.
In 1947, Matisse’s publisher Tériade issued the prints in an artist’s portfolio that included 20 colour prints, each about 16 by 26 inches, with hand-written texts by Matisse expressing his thoughts as he created the images.
The bright colours and lively subject matter combined with the text evoke a joie de vivre that mark this project as one of the most beautiful artist’s books of the 20th century. Tériade came up with the title Jazz, which Matisse liked because it suggested a connection between art and musical improvisation.”
(Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University).
Matisse chose the title Jazz, because it suggested a connection between art and musical improvisation.
Henri Matisse’s Jazz (1947) is often considered the pinnacle of livres d’artiste, or artist’s books. Livres d’artiste are typically collaborations between artists and authors resulting in limited edition, fine-crafted, beautifully printed books with original graphic work. Jazz was produced as an edition of 250 books, with the pages folded in half.
To create these works, Matisse cut forms out of large sheets of paper previously painted with gouache by his assistants. The cut-outs were then assembled on the wall of Matisse’s studio, under his direction. Tériade, the book's publisher, who suggested that title, explained that the paper cuts embodied the same improvisational spirit as jazz and that music was an indispensable part of Matisse’s life. Thus, his paper cut collages resemble jazz.
The themes set forth in Jazz can be separated into four categories: the world of the French music hall and circus, mythology and legends, symbolism for the War between France and Germany, and memories from his life and travels. In Jazz, Matisse's subjects are more like verbs than nouns, however. They express the feeling of leaping, flying, swimming, falling. They cut straight to the viewer's experience rather than merely depicting someone else’s.
For an artist like Matisse, the ability to suggest the natural world in all its diversity through the simple act of cutting shapes from colored paper became the ultimate act of creation by his knowing where to start and when to stop.