Jazz by Henri Matisse: the painter’s final tribute to colours, a collection of cut-outs that captures Matisse’s sensibility and his fascination with both form and meaning

Henri Matisse, Jazz

Published 1992 by George Braziller, 96p. Text translated by Sophie Hawkes


Jazz is rhythm and meaning. Henri Matisse

Icarus found his death disobeying his father’s warning and going too close to the sun. The light and the beauty of the star absorbed him and Icarus tried the impossible, aiming to reach the unreachable. The wax in his wings melted and he fell into the sea. Icarus’s image on the cover of Jazz was the main reason I wanted to know more about this book. And soon, reading it, I would understand that Matisse was ready to sacrifice his life for art’s sake.

DO I BELIEVE IN GOD? Yes, when I am working. When I am submissive and modest, I feel myself to be greatly helped by someone who causes me to do things that exceed my capabilities. However, I cannot acknowledge him because it is as if I were to find myself before a conjurer whose sleight of hand eludes me. Therefore I feel robbed of the benefits of the experience that should have been the reward for my efforts. I am ungrateful and without remorse.

Jazz is a collection of bright, meaningful paper cut-outs accompanied by some of the painter’s poetic thoughts, an expression of his vitality and extraordinary creativity. When in 1941 Matisse was diagnosed with abdominal cancer, following a difficult surgery that left him chair bound and in impossibility to paint or sculpt, the painter found comfort in a new activity that could still transmit his exuberance – cutting out painted paper and transforming it into artistic compositions. Helped by  assistants, Matisse transformed his room in a gallery, all walls pinned with cut-outs seeking perfection of form and meaning.

Forms, White Torso and Blue Torso, 1943.jpg
Forms, White Torso and Blue Torso, 1943


Lagoon, 1944

Most of the collages are related to circus and theatre, abstracted forms in bright colours, a technique that marked a new phase in Matisse’s artistic career and which he named drawing with scissors. Jazz was first published in 1947 by art publisher Tériade and included twenty plates, all explosions of colour and happiness.

The Circus, 1943 

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

Complement Jazz with The Iridescence of Birds, a beautiful picture book about the way Matisse’s childhood influenced his art.

Source of illustrations: http://www.henri-matisse.net;© Succession H. Matisse

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