Henri Matisse.
Paris: Teriade, 1947. (12134)

Stenciling by Edmond Vairel. Engravings printed by Draeger Frères. Signed by the artist below the colophon. Numbered XIII of twenty printed on Arches Vellum in an edition of two hundred seventy.

Jazz became a seminal work for Henri Matisse (1869–1954) toward the end of his life. During its development Matisse began to consider his works in découpage, which he could manipulate while infirmed with duodenal cancer, as finished compositions rather than intermediate steps to completed works. The technique allowed him to cut and assemble shapes from paper painted in gouache by his assistants. Matisse discovered that he was no longer imposing color on a surface, as he described it, but drawing directly into it . . . with scissors. The ability to move shapes freely within a composition he saw akin to musical improvisation. That observation as well as the layering of parts, the strong force of rhythm, and the liberty he felt to change color keys and rhythms, contributed to the title.

“These images,” wrote Matisse, “with their lively and violent tones, derive from crystallization of memories and circuses, folktales and voyages.  I have written these pages to mollify the simultaneous effects of my chromatic and rhythmic improvisations; pages forming a kind of sonorous ground that supports them, enfolds them, and protects them, in their particularities.”

Matisse’s “Notes” for Jazz opens with, “Why, after having written, ‘he who wants to dedicate himself to painting should start by cutting out his tongue’, do I need to resort to a medium other than my own?” He responds with the explanation, “these pages serve only as an accompaniment to my colors, as asters add to the composition of a bouquet of more important flowers. Thus their role is purely visual.” In the next sections Matisse muses over flowers he might pick in a garden and his dissatisfaction with the arrangement he makes, his perceptions from an airplane in contrast to perceptions from the ground, of drawing with scissors which he relates to carving into stone. Intriguing titles to other passages include “My Curves Are Not Mad,” “A Musician Has Said:,” and “Do I Believe In God?”

To print the edition, Matisse’s collages were transferred to stencils cut by Edmond Vairel who applied the same gouache used by the artist. Interleaved among the stenciled sheets is Matisse’s “sonorous ground,” his handwritten text printed as lithographs. The vibrant color and lyric flow of the original are preserved.

An index of the stenciled pages lists the title alongside a simple drawing of each, all in the artist’s hand. Jazz includes “The Clown,” “The Circus” which is displayed here, “Monsieur Loyal [the ringmaster],” “The Nightmare of the White Elephant,” “The Horse, Rider and Clown,” “The Wolf,” “The Heart,” “Icarus,” “Forms,” “The Pierrot’s Funeral [Pierrot was the traditional sad clown],” “The Codomas [a well-known trapeze act],” “The Swimmer in the Tank,” “The Sword Swallower,” “The Cowboy,” “The Knife Thrower,” “Destiny,” “Lagoon I,” “Lagoon II,” “Lagoon III,” and “Toboggan.”

© 2021 H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York