Matisse’s Jazz

May 28, 2020 to August 16, 2020


Henri Matisse, Icare (Icarus) from Jazz, 1947. Pochoir. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Gift of Margaret Bosshardt Pace and family. © Succession H. Matisse, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


These images…derive from crystallizations of memories of circuses, folktales, and voyages.
—Henri Matisse, 1947


Matisse’s Jazz is one of the masterpieces of 20th-century art. The artist originally intended to title this suite Le Cirque since so many of the images reference visits to the circus. However, the suite also includes images of mythology and travel. Icarus, who flew too close to the sun on wings made of wax, inspired one of the most iconic Jazz images, a silhouette of a human figure with a tiny red heart on a brilliant blue background with yellow sunbursts. Matisse’s flight over Tahiti in 1930 informed the beautifully undulating shapes of Lagoon. Matisse’s publisher looked at these disparate elements and thought Jazz would be a more fitting title. Matisse agreed and especially appreciated the similarities between improvisational music and the process of making art.