Jazz by Henri Matisse comprises a set of 20 colour stencils and over 70 pages of calligraphic writing. Jazz was pivotal in Matisse’s transition from oil painting to the cut-out collages that dominated the last decade of his life. 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.
The compositions selected for Jazz were entrusted to the colour specialist Edmond Vairel to be turned into stencils. These were then printed with the same vivid gouaches used by Matisse. The cover and text pages were printed separately by Draeger Frères in Paris. Jazz was published by Tériade in an edition of 250.
The book’s title evokes the idea of a musical structure of rhythm and repetition, expressed through the handwritten text, which is broken by the explosive improvisations of the colour plates. Matisse’s subjects are taken largely from the circus, mythology and memories of his travels. They represent either isolated figures or paired forms that suggest a dialogue between artist and model. Despite the vivid colours and folkloric themes, few of the plates are actually cheerful. Several are among Matisse’s most ominous images.