In recent years, the exceedingly libral use of the term iconic when refering to works of art has rendered the label nearly meaningless. Iconic status, however, is really quite profound: Icons permeate consciousness, informing our comprehension of nearly every idea we consider.
Upon hearing the name Henri Matisse, most Westerners imagine one of artist’s famous, late-period cut-out collages and, indeed, these images permeate nearly every corner of visual culture. But before flooding our awareness, the cut-outs took root in Jazz, printed by the art publisher Tériade in 1947 as a book of pochoir plates, a complete set of which are offered in the Matisse: Jazz online auction, which is open for bidding from November 10 to 19.
‘The process of making Jazz is what led Matisse to leave oil painting and focus on cut-outs for the remainder of his career,’ says Libia Nahas, the eCommerce Head of Sale and Specialist in the Prints & Multiples department. As the artist, himself, stated in 1951, ‘The paper cut-out allows me to draw in color. It is, for me, a matter of simplification. Instead of drawing the contour and filling in the color — one modifying the other — I draw directly into the color, which is all the more controlled in that it is not transposed. This simplification guarantees a precision in the reunion of the two means, which brings them together as one.’
Henri Matisse (1869–1954); Le nageuse de l’aquarium from Jazz; pochoir in colors. © 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Estimate $10,000–15,000. Each of the twenty prints from the Jazz portfolio are available in Christie’s online auction.
Before coming to this realization, Matisse wrestled with the possibilities of reproduction with his publisher, who approached the artist in 1939 to create one of his cut-out works — a form he only used previously for compositional planning — for the cover of his publication, Verve. The success of the collaboration led Tériade to, ‘dream of a book on “the color of Matisse,” which would contain all the new thoughts that you have expressed about color and be illustrated by large plates... It would be fascinating if you were to describe the entire possible development of color with the greatest freedom, because the colored collages can be reproduced absolutely faithfully,’ as he was quoted in Alistair Sooke’s 2014 Henri Matisse: A Second Life.
Challenged to translate the cut-out maquettes into print, Tériade and Matisse settled on the pochoir technique because it best emulated the palette, texture, sharp edges, and layering of the originals. The project began in 1943 and, due to ongoing production research as well as physical limitations of the postwar years, it took four years to realize.
Matisse’s prints really are more than all that jazz. In fact, it might be apt to describe them as nothing less than iconic
While machinations on the series’ process offer endless opportunities for technical examination, the personal nature of the compositions themselves, inspired by childhood memories and reflections on travel, contribute heavily to their charm. Iconography of the circus and music hall that feature prominently in Jazz had not previously appeared in Matisse’s work, and were not to appear again. On the other hand, many of the individual signs, particularly the leaf shapes and images of figures in movement, reemerge and are further investigated in the artist’s later work.
Encompassing technical innovations, emotional and intellectual depth, and a considerable flair for breaking cultural barriers, Matisse’s prints really are more than all that jazz. In fact, it might be apt to describe them as nothing less than iconic.
Visit Christie’s online auction for a unique opportunity to bid on each of the twenty prints from this stunning portfolio. p>
This article was contributed by Deborah Wilk.
Image at top:
Henri Matisse (1869-1954); Les Codomas, from Jazz; pochoir in colors. Estimate $10,000-15,000.
© 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York