Studying Matisse's Jazz Series in Chicago

Susan is a lovely librarian and very generous. The Ryerson Library here at the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago is beautiful with an art deco ceiling letting in natural light. Large wood tables. The Matisse display is under glass just as you walk in. I requested a couple books, including the recent Neret books, so gorgeous. I did a quick once-over through the glass, but you can’t quite tell if they are cut-outs, painting, or print. Once Susan brought out the folio of the rest of the collection that had already been on display, she laid out a piece of foam and took them out, unfolded them one at a time and laid it out on the foam to view. We went through them like that, me making comments and asking questions, about the process (he had them printed), looks like gouache, thick rough-edged paper, remarkable condition. This was all last exhibited in 1989. Too bad you don’t speak French. Hopefully the books will clue you in to some of his hand-painted text. There is just as much text as image if not more.

Interesting imperfections. Some rough-cut edges, some text that is crossed through. I wonder if this is the painter part of him that still desired some blurred edges.

Taschen folio 2009: Facsimile of the illustrated book Jazz by Henri Matisse, originally published in 1947 by Editions Teriade, Paris.

Taschen publication is stunning. BUT, they couldn’t quite capture some of the luminosity in the color. For example, the original Formes, sculptural silhouettes almost…the gorgeous airy light bluish gray of the original shows a more opaque warm gray in the book. HUGE difference. I spent time taking the folio prints out and comparing them to the originals.

Susan showed me the first display: the first and last five in the series, because of the spread of table of contents written by Matisse. His table of contents displays a two-page spread of roman numerals, pages 5-15, in abbreviated line drawings showing simplest contour of the pages. Wow! Current display is the middle ten. The blacks are much more rich and creamy in the original prints, as well. The edition owned by Chicago is #29 out of 270 Sold for $345 at the time; one just went to auction for almost a million.

After drawing the horse print, had Susan show me the originals pulled one more time. She had a poster of the horse print in high school; the Museum had a large Matisse show last year, so she had him on her mind. She is in charge of exhibitions in the library. It was pretty simple to request the series from the Prints and Drawings department for display. The trick has been the light: they need equal exposure, so couldn’t all be displayed at once in the provided space. Also, this show has gotten more traffic than anything she’s seen exhibited in the library. It was special that I got to see it out of the archives. The P&D Dept doesn’t want it viewed often. Susan actually has said no to people who have requested it since I asked. What a rare opportunity!!!