Henri Matisse’s Joyful, Poetic Works Created in the Midst of War
Stanford, Calif. — Henri Matisse, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, refused to leave France after the outbreak of World War II. In 1940 German forces overtook Paris, and his daughter and son participated in the resistance movement. In 1941 Matisse was diagnosed with cancer and became bedridden following surgery. His household moved from the city of Nice in 1943 to escape the threat of Allied bombing. That same year, at the age of 74, Matisse began Jazz, a much-celebrated portfolio of works characterized by brilliant colors, poetic texts and joyful circus and theater themes. All 20 prints from the edition of Jazz are on display at the Cantor Arts Center from July 31 to September 22.
The works represent the great artist’s lifelong unflagging creativity. Limited in his mobility, Matisse could not paint or sculpt. Instead, he cut out forms from colored papers that he arranged as collages. His assistants then prepared the collages for printing in a stencil process referred to by the French term pochoir. Matisse worked on the series for two years, with the act of cutting shapes from brightly colored sheets of paper linking in a single process both drawing and color, two important elements in Matisse’s work.
In 1947, Matisse’s publisher Tériade issued the prints in an artist’s portfolio that included 20 color prints, each about 16 by 26 inches, with handwritten texts by Matisse expressing his thoughts as he created the images. The bright colors and lively subject matter combined with the text evoke a joie de vivre that mark this project as one of the most beautiful artist’s books of the 20th century. Tériade came up with the title Jazz, which Matisse liked because it suggested a connection between art and musical improvisation.
In 1948, Matisse gave this particular edition of Jazz to Sarah Stein, sister-in-law of author Gertrude Stein, an important patron. Sarah Stein, Matisse’s confidante and also his patron, donated it along with numerous prints by Matisse to Stanford University after moving to Palo Alto from Paris. The works then joined the major collection of rare books and works of art on paper under the care of the Stanford Library.
This exhibition presents all 20 prints from the edition of Jazz held in the Gunst Collection in Special Collections at the Stanford University Library. Past exhibitions at the Cantor from the library’s Special Collections featured work by Charles Hobson and contemporary art of the book from five California presses. An exhibition of Carlton Watkins’s photographs of Yosemite, drawn from Special Collections, is scheduled to go on view at the Cantor in 2014.
The presentation of “Matisse Jazz” is made possible at the Cantor Arts Center with support from Lynn Krywick Gibbons Exhibitions Fund.
“Matisse Jazz” joins five other exhibitions this season, presenting a special opportunity to experience French art at the Cantor Arts Center. The other exhibitions feature prints from the School of Fontainebleau; graphic arts by Edouard Manet and his contemporaries; 400 years of French drawings from the Blanton Museum of Art; old master figure drawings from the Cantor’s collection; and lithographs by Symbolist artist Odilon Redon.