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Color and Rhythm: Henri Matisse's "Jazz"

Henri Matisse’s Jazz is often considered the pinnacle of livres d’artiste, or artist’s books. Livres d’artiste are typically collaborations between artists and authors resulting in limited edition, fine-crafted, beautifully printed books with original graphic work. The tradition was particularly strong in France in the beginning-to-mid 20th century.

Like many of his contemporaries, Matisse was part of this movement; Jazz was by far his most ambitious and beautiful book. He composed the copy and then hand-wrote the curvy, playful calligraphic text in addition to creating all of the images. The images are the primary focus, and as Matisse himself explains at the beginning of the book, the role of the text “is purely visual.” I think people will be surprised to learn that so many of these iconic images (including the one of the horse shown here) come from a book.

The Art Institute was savvy enough to purchase one of the 270 copies when they were produced in 1947. For the first time in more than 20 years, this beautiful book will be exhibited in the museum. The Ryerson and Burnham Libraries will display 10 of the book’s 20 pochoirs—plates that were hand-colored using a stenciling technique—between March 15 and April 11, and the second half between April 12 and May 10. A variety of motifs—the circus, the sea, algae, leaves—runs throughout the book, displaying Matisse’s famous technique of brightly colored cut-outs. The end result is a lush, lively creation that feels as fresh today as at its conception.

—Susan A., Head of Reader Services, Ryerson & Burnham Libraries