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Adventurers of modern art

I chanced upon this Sky Arts programme about Paris and its contribution to art and writing from 1900-50.

This period produced artists that shaped modern art: Picasso, Miro, Chagall, Braque, Andre Breton (the father of surrealism) and the better known artist he loathed Salvador Dali, Cocteau, Chaim Soutine, Ernest Hemingway, Andre Gide and the poets Louis Aragon and Max Jacob.

Many of these artists worked together in a collective studio Bateau Lavoir in difficult conditions and were extremely poor. Marc Chagall had to make one herring last two meals, Chaim Soutine took scraps from a restaurant.

The programme – originally a French broadcast – used the interesting technique of comic style illustrations of the main characters. There was little original news reel footage and it was a visual programme so this worked.

Of interest was the attitude of these personalities to the Spanish Civil War and World War 2.

Picasso painted Guernica to protest the Naxi bombing of Guernica to test the Luftwaffe’s capability and the resolve of the Republicans.

The story was repeated that when the Gestapo called at Picasso’s atelier to find the whereabouts of his Jewish friend Max Jacob they saw his Guernica and asked if he did that. ” No” he replied ” You did.”

Oddly the programme did not mention as director of the Prado in 1938 he saved a number of fine paintings.

Sadly a number of fine works by Monet, Ernst, Manet etc. finished up in a bonfire in occupied Paris made by the Nazis. By contrast, German Art – much heralded by the Austrian painter Hitler – was of little quality.

Chaim Soutine who took refuge in a Abbey was taken by the Gestapo and deported to the camps but his art lives on.

Many of his paintings contain an animal carcass – the image a memory of his childhood when he was punished for painting a rabbi by being locked up in a freezing abattoir. Mind you, Soutine’s neighbours were none too impressed by the smell.

This was a six part programme which I downloaded as I joined it halfway through the series.

It’s difficult in an arts programme to know where to pitch it. Too cerebral and you have a small audience, too trivialised and it is of little value.

This series was always engaging with stories, appreciation of art and the political context in which they lived.

About Alice Mansfield

A graduate of the Slade, Alice has painted and written about art all her life. With her children now having now grown up and departed the nest, she recently took up sculpture. More Posts