From Henri Matisse’s Jazz portfolio to be offered at Sotheby's London 18 March.

LONDON - Henri Matisse’s cut-outs, which offer such a fantastic insight into this final chapter of the artist’s career, are likely to attract great interest when Tate Modern open their exhibition Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs on 17 April. Almost exactly a month before then, on 18 March, the Prints and Multiples sale in New Bond Street will feature a complete set of the Jazz portfolio.

At the age of 74, Matisse felt he had said all he had to say in the medium of paint, and embarked on a new phase in his career. A decade after his operation for cancer, bedridden and limited in mobility, he was unable to paint or draw freely. Using only large shears and gouache-painted paper, he produced a series of paper cut-outs that he published in his idiosyncratic and much-celebrated album Jazz in 1947.

Henri Matisse making paper cutouts in bed at his home in Vence, France, circa 1947. Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images.

In one swift move, Matisse linked together drawing and colour, two integral elements in his work. These bold, exuberant paper cut-outs appeal to us with their engaging simplicity yet also impress with their creative sophistication. These deceptively simple forms were what Matisse liked to call ‘painting with scissors.’ He had invented a new medium.

From Henri Matisse’s Jazz portfolio to be offered at Sotheby's London 18 March.

Originally intended as illustrations for a poetry collection, in the end Matisse replaced them with his own notes, which were originally written with a paintbrush in looping letters, providing a visual counterpoint to the bursts of colourful images. His publisher suggested the title Jazz to which Matisse immediately warmed because of the connection it implied between art and musical improvisation. The combination of bright colours and spontaneous subject matter evoke a real joie de vivre that makes Jazz stand out as one of the most beautiful, groundbreaking and personal artist’s books of the 20th century.

From Henri Matisse’s Jazz portfolio to be offered at Sotheby's London 18 March.

There are many compositions that I love in Jazz but one of my favourites is the Trapeze Artist. The image is stripped back and simple: an acrobat flies through the air at the top of the circus tent, travelling from dark into light, from the black abyss of before being born to a kind of after-life. I wonder whether Matisse is provocatively defying death, thumbing his nose at it. In another composition, The Burial of Piero, a cortege encases a red form – little red dots that might represent a beating heart – that recurs with variations throughout the visual narrative. This beating heart is joyous, reborn, and seems to challenge death. In these autumnal years of his life, I cannot help but feel that Matisse felt a new lease on life. This is manifested in his new medium and can be palpably seen in Jazz.

Prints & Multiples

London, 18 March
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