• Henri Matisse’s Jazz: The Mystery of The Codomas

    Rodney Swan (see profile)
    Global & Transnational Studies, History of Art, Philosophy, War Studies
    Literature, Art, History, Books
    Item Type:
    Livre d'artiste, artists' book, Matisse, circus, Art history, Book history
    Permanent URL:
    In addition to the enigmatic The Codomas, Henri Matisse distinguished three other images with a name, Icarus, Monsieur Loyal and Pierrot’s Funeral for his landmark livre d’artiste Jazz. While the characters Loyal, Pierrot and Icarus were readily identifiable and the images could be interpreted within the context of the difficulties of the German Occupation of France, extensive investigations could not uncover any trace of the name Codoma. Widely considered to be an acrobatic troupe, this article reports on the search to decipher The Codomas. What this research discovered was an internationally renowned circus troupe called The Flying Codonas whose repeated tragedies were widely reported in France. The misfortunes of The Flying Codonas were the subject of a film, a music recording and a book which was extensively distributed in France at the time Matisse created The Codomas. This paper argues that Matisse intended to portray the tragedies of the Codonas in his image and that the most likely cause of his misspelling of the name was due to a prolonged memory lapse. However, it remains puzzling how the many helpers that handled the image between its creation and final publication, did not identify and correct the error. Even more difficult to explain is that over seventy years since the publication of The Codomas in 1947, the extensive scholarly, curatorial and journalistic attention accorded to Jazz has not referenced the misspelling. This article adds to the extensive scholarship devoted to Jazz.
    Although this article concludes that Matisse misspelt Codomas instead of the correct Codonas due to a prolonged memory lapse where he believed he used the correct name, I am open to alternative propositions.
    Last Updated:
    5 years ago


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