Jazz, is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful illustrated books of this century. A special edition of Jazz was published by George Braziller exclusively for The Museum of Modern Art. Using papers and inks made especially to approximate the original textures and colours, this publication faithfully reproduced the 20 plates of collages and, in 156 pages, the artist’s hand-drawn French text.
Henri Matisse Collection: Jazz
Diagnosed with abdominal cancer in 1941, Matisse underwent surgery that left him chair and bed bound. Limited in mobility, he could no longer paint or sculpt. Instead, he cut forms from colored paper that he arranged as collages, and decoupage which became known as the “cut-outs.”
That same year, at the age of 74, Matisse began Jazz. His assistants helped prepare the collages for printing, using a stencil process known as pochoir in French. He worked on the series for two years, utilizing this new method that linked drawing and color—two important elements in Matisse’s work.
The designs were initially intended as covers for Verve, a French art magazine published by Tériade. In 1947, Tériade issued the compositions in an artist’s portfolio. The book included 20 color prints, each about 16 by 26 inches, as well as Matisse’s handwritten notes expressing his thoughts throughout the process. Tériade gave it the title Jazz, which Matisse liked because it suggested a connection between art and musical improvisation. Despite the low number of books printed, Jazz was well received.
The circus, the title originally suggested for the book, provided inspiration for the majority of the motifs concerning performing artists and balancing acts. “These images, with their lively and violent tones, derive from crystallizations of memories of circuses, folktales, and voyages,” Matisse explains in the accompanying text. The figure of the circus artist, usually depicted alone, is often seen as a metaphor for the artist himself.
The first prints illustrating the circus do not seem to have an immediate connection to the succeeding works. However, these compositions are viewed as metaphors of life. The overall themes in Jazz derive from biographical elements, such as Matisse’s recollection of his travels to Tahiti in the Lagoons (XVII-XIX), as well as broader aspects including love (V, VI), death (X), and fate (XVI).
Henri Matisse’s Jazz is a limited edition artist’s book containing prints of colourful cut paper collages, accompanied by the artist’s written thoughts. It was first issued on September 30, 1947, by art publisher Tériade. The portfolio, characterized by vibrant colours, poetic texts, and circus and theatre themes. The Portfolio marks Matisse’s transition to a new form of medium.
Curious to know more about Calder? Here’s a BBC documentary on Matisse.