Henri Matisse created Jazz towards the end of his life, when he was largely restricted to working from his bed - yet it is a glorious celebration of life, a riot of pure colours and playful forms.
The twenty pochoirs mark a radical new departure in Matisse's work. The maquettes for Jazz are amongst the first essays in a medium entirely of his own devising - the papiers découpés- which finally led him to abandon painting altogether in favour of this new and inventive technique. For Matisse, the act of cutting shapes or 'signs' from brightly coloured sheets of paper finally closed the gap between line, form and colour - a divide he as both a great colourist and passionate draughtsman had always felt. The cut-outs at last linked 'drawing and colour in a single movement' (Matisse in an interview with André Lejard, Amis de l'Art, no. 2, Oct. 1951).
Matisse had used a paper cut-out design in an early issue of VERVE but when Tériade first put forward the idea of an entire book using paper cut-out designs, Matisse initially refused. After some persuasion and further development of the technique, the artist was convinced and put the whole of his energy into the project, working on it over several months of intense and feverish creative activity between 1943-4.
Inspired by the circus, folk tales and exotic voyages, Matisse thought of his cut-outs as 'cristallisations de souvenirs' (D. Fourcade, Henri Matisse - Écrits et propos sur l'art, Paris, 1972). Originally titled Cirque, the improvised themes and compositional variations prompted the printer Tériade to suggest Jazz as an alternative title. When the book was published in 1947 it met with an unprecedented success: De tous les livres de Matisse, Jazz est sans aucun doute le plus important: il provoque une véritable révolution dans l'oeuvre de l'artiste et dans l'histoire de l'art contemporain (Michel Anthonioz, Hommage Tériade, Paris, 1973, p. 125).
Matisse insisted on printing Jazz using the same Linel gouache paints he had used to colour his paper cut-out maquettes. It is these intensely glowing colours, beautifully preserved in the present example, and the poetic and evocative, yet nearly abstract imagery which make Jazz one of the greatest and most influential print series of the 20th century.