Arguably one of the most beloved works of 20th-century art, the spontaneity, inventiveness, and pure, intensely pigmented color of Henri Matisse’s “Jazz” portfolio projects a joyous sense of freedom. The 20 images in the portfolio were based on collages Matisse made by cutting sheets of vividly colored painted paper with scissors when, as an invalid, he could no longer paint. The painter compared his act of cutting into color to a sculptor cutting into stone. Discovering cutouts late in his life, this new way of working had an extraordinarily liberating effect on him.
It became the means by which Matisse created remarkable and unparalled imagery. Matisse began working on the series in 1943. He gave the portfolio the title “Jazz” because, he wrote, the images were “a series of chromatic and rhythmic improvisations” as is jazz. In fact, Matisse’s images refer less to music than to his memories of the circus, stories, and travel. In 1947, Tériade, publisher of the French art magazine Verve, published the pochoir prints in a deluxe edition of 100.
Pochoir is a printing process involving stencils and brush-applied paint perfected and used by French printers during the mid-20th century. The Art Center is extremely fortunate to own a complete set of Matisse’s “Jazz” portfolio. Last exhibited at the Des Moines Art Center Downtown in 2006, the prints are displayed in the current exhibition amidst the refined and measured geometry, curving ceiling coves, and natural building materials of our print gallery designed by Eliel Saarinen (built in 1948). Here, Matisse’s masterwork of modern art finds its true home.
Amy N. Worthen, curator of prints and drawings,organized the exhibition.