The present work is the maquette for the image which appeared on the poster for Matisse's exhibition 'Jazz'. This was held at the Librairie Pierre Berès, Paris in December 1947, and later travelled to New York and Rio de Janeiro.
"It is impossible to appreciate fully the originality and historical importance of Matisse's gouaches découpées...Now universally regarded as the greatest colourist of the century, Matisse constantly explored and exploited all the resources of colour, seeing it neither as an ornament nor as a way of clothing form, but as the very essence of painting" (J. Guichard-Meili, Matisse Paper Cutouts, London, 1984, p. 9).
The exhibiton consisted of plates based on Matisse's series of cut-outs entitled Jazz, which he executed in 1943 and 1944. A book of the same title was published by Tériade in September 1947 as a folio of twenty colour plates. The subject matter was largely inspired by Matisse's love of poetry, graphic design and the theatre. Jazz was his first major cut-out project, and a pivotal work in his transition from oil painting to the cut-out technique that would dominate the rest of his career.
Matisse expliained in 1951 "The paper cut-out allows me to draw in colour. It is for me a matter of simplification. Instead of drawing the contour and filling in the colour - one modifying the other - I draw directly into the colour, 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" (see N. Watkins, Matisse, Oxford, 1984, p. 206).
In January 1941, Matisse underwent serious surgery, which was followed by an almost miraculous recovery, and his convalescence produced a new burst of creativity. In a letter of 31 March 1943, Matisse declared to his friend André Rouveyre "I have the conviction of having witnessed the greatest breakthrough in colour that I have been waiting for, analogous to that which I made in drawing last year. I am deeply content, happy. I have some good days in prospect, God willing" (see J. Guichard-Meili, op. cit, p. 15).
The cut-outs were made from heavy drawing paper, which Matisse's assistants covered in gouache and coloured to his exact requirements. "Even the streaks of gouache were like the grain of a natural material. It was the basic material of painting, the flat radiance of colour itself. It was this that Matisse set about with his scissors...with a decisiveness that developed into an unparalled virtuosity with the new instruments. When he began working in cut paper he wrote of 'drawing with scissors'...In the text he provided in 1947 for Jazz he wrote: "cutting into living colour reminds me of the sculptor's direct carving". The association was significant; he was cutting into a primal substance, the basic chromatic substance that he had extracted from Impressionism...With each stroke the cutting revealed the character both of the material, the pristine substance, and also of an image...Often the theme was more mobile and flowing than anything he had painted for years; the movement was like a dance" (L. Gowing, Matisse, London, 1979, p. 185).
A complete copy of the book Jazz, number 94 of 250 copies, is to be offered in a sale of Valuable Printed Books, Autograph Letters and Music, to be held at Christie's King Street on 27 November 1996.