Henri Matisse’s book Jazz, marks the artist’s transition to a new medium and the work is further unique in that it is the only book in which Matisse is both author and artist. Of limited mobility, due to illness his ability to work in traditional media such as painting and sculpture was limited, instead he cut forms from colored paper and arranged them into collages and decoupage, works that became known as the “cut-outs.” Matisse first used a paper cut-out design in an early issue of the Parisian art journal, Verve, published by Tériade. After developing and experimenting with the techniques of paper-cutting and collage, he accepted a proposal from Tériade to illustrate an entire book with these designs, and at the age of 74, Matisse began Jazz.
The illustrations in Jazz are not traditional original prints, but rather his assistants helped him to prepare the collages for printing, using a stencil technique known as pochoir. In this process, a print with the outlines of the design was first produced, and then a series of stencils were used to apply areas of color to the page by hand. Matisse toiled over the series for two years, utilizing this new method to link drawing and color, a phenomenon that was a defining element of his work. The book was entitled Jazz to reflect the manner in which the bold, colorful cut-out forms embodied a rhythm and dynamism akin to the pace and movement of a jazz orchestra.
However, the title originally suggested for the book was Cirque, a subject that encompassed the theatrical themes that inspired the majority of the performance motifs illustrated in the book. As Matisse wrote: These violent and vivid stamped images came from the crystallization of memories of the circus, of folk tales or of travels. I did these writings to soothe the simultaneous reaction of my chromatic and rhythmic improvisations, pages that formed a 'background of sound' that support, surround and thus protect their own uniqueness.” (D. Fourcade, Henri Matisse, écrits et propos sur l'art, Hermann, Paris, 1972).
The artist’s own poetic text accompanies his designs – his written thoughts addressing his art, as well as wider issues of life – and is presented in a large round manuscript form. When the book was published in 1947 it met with an immediate and unprecedented success: Of all of Matisse’s books, Jazz is without a doubt his most important: it triggered a revolution in both the artist’s oeuvre and in the history of contemporary art.” (Michel Anthonioz, Hommage Tériade, Paris, 1973, p. 125)