Where are They Now? Henri Matisse's Jazz

October 6, 2015
– By Leslie Cozzi, curatorial associate, Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts

A highlight from the Hammer Museum’s Grunwald Center Collection is currently on display in the San Diego Museum of Art exhibition The Art of Music. One of the most significant artist’s books of the twentieth century, Henri Matisse’s Jazz was begun by the artist in 1943 and published in 1947. (View Henri Matisse's Jazz and learn more about the artwork.Jazz prompted a revolutionary transformation in Matisse’s working method where collage replaced a more traditional preparatory drawing practice. Gluing cut pieces of colored paper together to form compositions, these ‘cut-outs’ would serve not only as independent works but also as the basis for subsequent objects in a variety of other media, including ceramic, stained glass, textiles, and book design.  For the first edition of Jazz, Matisse’s cut-out designs were translated into stencil by his publisher Tériade. The 20 illustrated plates which accompany the artist-written text depict scenes related to the circus, including a clown and a knife thrower.

Jazz was created during World War II, a time of extreme political upheaval and personal turmoil for the artist which included the arrest of Matisse’s daughter for her support of the Resistance. Not surprisingly, some of the images appear to reflect this unease, as in the explosive red wounds decorating the bodies of some of the figures. Nevertheless, the work’s title calls to mind positive associations of freedom and emotional reverie.  Blending abstraction and figuration in a riot of bold color, Jazz contains some of the most daring and original imagery Matisse ever produced.

Jazz and another work from the Hammer Museum’s collection by renowned artist John Baldessari will be on view in San Diego until February 7, 2016.