Matisse’s Jazz Replayed – A Farewell Concert

Matisse was in his seventies and in poor health when he began this project; he could no longer draw or paint easily with a pencil or brush.  He used scissors to cut out simple forms from brightly colored paper painted to his specifications with gouache, then arranged them on another sheet of gouache-painted paper.  Assistants took these assemblages and prepared them for printing.  It was a popular practice at the time for noted artists to create limited edition books300px-Jazz_Henri_Matisse.  The original intention was for Matisse to illustrate poems written by a French author.  As Matisse began, he used a large fluid brush to write notes to himself on construction paper about his thoughts as he created the images.  The simple visual appearance of the words pleased Matisse, and he suggested using his roughly painted words in juxtaposition with the images, rather than the original poems.  The publisher agreed.

Many of the prints in Jazz take their theme from the theatre or circus.  [The publisher] Tériade came up with the seemingly inappropriate title.  However, Matisse not only went along, but was taken with the idea, sensing a connection of the visual and musical through improvisation on a theme.

None of the original copies were bound, and many of the purchasers arranged with prominent artists like Cocteau (copy in Victoria and Albert Museum) or famous graphic designers to create binders for the pages.  Each of the pages is about 24 inches by 12 inches and folded in the center.  Some of the pages have Matisse’s text on the left side and an image on the right; other pages, like The Funeral of Pierrot, cover the entire sheet and there is no text.  Covers simply press the pages flat and hold them together.  The original edition of September 30, 1947 consisted of 250 sets of prints and sold for $120 each.

— From Wikipedia:  Jazz (Henri Matisse)


Combined with the final installment in the concert series “Jazz in July,” Friday evening provided a mellow chance to visit the Indiana University Art Museum’s “Matisse’s Jazz and Other Works from IU Collections” exhibit (cf. April 27)  one last time, with guided tour (to quote from the brochure) “by Nan Brewer, the Lucienne M. Glaubinger Creator of Works on Paper, on the circus imagery in Henri Matisse’s Jazz.”  This was followed by an outdoor concert on the plaza in front of the museum by jazz drummer Steve Houghton and members of the AHA! Quintet (though possibly not all, the other musicians being Steve Allee, piano, Nick Tucker, bass, and Rob Dixon, tenor sax).

Docent Brewer noted of  The Funeral of Peirrot that the commedia dell’arte figure of the sad clown was considered to reflect the spirit of the French people especially in he wake of World War II, a sensitive soul and fellow sufferer like the artist.  But that the “trusting heart” in the center within the circus wagon/hearse is also the artist and an imagination imageswhich will not die.  But Brewer warned also that most of the pieces had multiple meanings, with images that sometimes come up in more than one print, as the acrobat/tightrope walker as artist keeping everything in balance (“Sometimes the difficult appeared:  lines, volumes, colors were put together and then the whole thing collapsed, one thing destroying another.” — H. Matisse); or the sword swallower’s open mouth which also might represent a scream; or the ringmaster’s whip; or the knife thrower who, with his target, represents the relationship between the artist and his model.

The thing for me, though, is the application of all this as well to the writer or the poet — the idea of balance, for instance, which I in my writers group once analogized to a juggler keeping an increasing number of balls in the air; or the artist/subject dichotomy which (ah, now, here comes the plug!) lies beneath, in my mind, the overall theme of THE TEARS OF ISIS.  Or so at least I think.  But my interpretations aside, the art itself was well worth seeing one more time before the exhibition is taken down, as well as the music afterwards worth hearing.


  1. Fascinating, Jim! And I agree that TALES OF ISIS is a brilliant example of such juggling within a theme — something I didn’t realize at first read, for it’s so unique. Or at least, unexpected.

    Yes, lovely evening, wish I could have attended. Did you know that Matisse, as his eyesight deteriorated, used brushes with five foot handles? Of course, this didn’t work out for all that long. It must have been terribly frustrating for him.

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