Bohemian Paris: Picasso,Modigliani,Matisse,and the Birth of Modern Art

Bohemian Paris: Picasso,Modigliani,Matisse,and the Birth of Modern Art

by Dan Franck

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Paris is a mythical city, a capital of the arts that has hosted some of the most legendary developments in world culture. Perhaps this reputation has never been so richly deserved as at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism were born in a heady atmosphere of invention and discovery that gave way to the modern sensibility


Paris is a mythical city, a capital of the arts that has hosted some of the most legendary developments in world culture. Perhaps this reputation has never been so richly deserved as at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism were born in a heady atmosphere of invention and discovery that gave way to the modern sensibility. In Bohemian Paris, Dan Franck leads us on a vivid and magical tour of the Paris of 1900-1930 and its hotbeds of artistic creation. He introduces erudite and erosobsessed poet Guillaume Apollinaire; the painter Amedeo Modigliani, generous to a fault even when starving; the opportunistic but brilliant Jean Cocteau; and rival geniuses Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, powerful figures who inspired and galvanized their peers even as they divided and obstructed them. We encounter American writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose time in Paris is the stuff of legend, and form-breaking modern writer and salonist nonpareil Gertrude Stein. Painters and writers, sculptors and poets, they lived like characters in a Balzac story, working, loving, and struggling against a backdrop of extravagant parties and dire poverty. With a novelist's verve and a historian's skill, Dan Franck now paints these lives and this remarkable time, capturing the beauty and vitality distilled from these artists, whose work became the cornerstones of great art.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Franck, an extremely prolific French novelist, has produced some gloomy fictional narratives of wrenching relationships, a few of which have appeared in English (Separation; My Russian Love). He seems to want to lighten up here with a series of nonfiction anecdotes rife with novelistic invented dialogue. In three main sections, titled by neighborhood ("The Anartists of Montmartre," "Montparnasse Goes to War" and "Montparnasse, Open City,") a series of tales involving early 20th-century art movements like fauvism, cubism, dadaism and surrealism are recounted as if yelled artist to artist across the counter of a noisy bistro, as Franck assumes a deep familiarity with the subject. Leaping from writers Apollinaire, Cocteau and Hemingway to painters Modigliani, Picasso and Matisse, Franck drops names ponderously. His disavowal in the preface, "I am not an art historian" is not modest enough; there is little conventionally grounded history among these yarns of brawls, food -fights, drunken disputes and art making. A poor translation does not help, with sentences like "Charlie Chaplin didn't come, and nor did Bergson or D'Annunzio" or " `I forbid you to excite yourself with my women!' exclaimed Pascin." French culture buffs will be vexed by such formulations, while anyone not already familiar with obscure Parisian figures like the painters Foujita and Pascin will just be puzzled. 16 pages of b&w photos and illus. not seen by PW. (Feb. 19 ) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The rich mixture of international cultures, ideas, personalities, and passions in early 20th-century Paris resulted in an explosive blend of creativity. Writers and artists experimented with bold new concepts, such as Cubism and Dadaism, but they also found time to pursue turbulent love affairs, frequent cafes, challenge each other to duels, and more usually on little or no money. Their stories make for good reading, and French screenwriter/novelist Franck (My Russian Love) spins lavish historical, biographical, artistic, and even scandalous details into a narrative that will captivate both serious and casual readers. He illuminates Picasso's complexities as both friend and lover, introduces us to the mannerly poet Max Jacob, and revisits Apollinaire, Jarry, Modigliani, Cocteau, Matisse, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald, among countless others all set against the marvelously depicted backdrop of bohemian Paris. Though this era has been often treated, Franck's presentation is especially good; he is able to show how all these artists interacted while allowing them to remain individuals. This marvelous and informative volume will inspire readers to become better acquainted with the works produced by these individuals. For circulating libraries and arts collections. Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The author offers anecdotes of many of the creative denizens of the Paris of 1900-30, and includes photos of French and US expatriate artists and their haunts. Novels by Franck which have been translated into English are and . This work was first published in French in 1998, by Calmann-L<'e>vy, Paris. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Kirkus Reviews
Bestselling French novelist Franck (Separation, 1994, etc.) turns to nonfiction with a thorough and vivid evocation of the City of Light in its heyday as capital of the avant-garde.

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Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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6.39(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.44(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Right at the top of the hill of Montmartre rises the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Galette. This astonishing edifice, one of the scandals of our times, mocks Paris even as it dominates her — material evidence of the power of the priests.

Le Père Peinard, 1897

As the century began, Montmartre and Montparnasse faced each other from afar: two hills which would be the birthplaces of the worlds of yesterday and today. Two shores of Haussmann's river; by constructing his buildings and avenues for the solid bourgeois class, the illustrious city planner pushed the troublesome white proletarian population to the city's outskirts: an old method for conserving the centre.

    On the right bank was the Bateau Lavoir, on the left, the smoke-filled evenings of the Closerie des Lilas. Between the two flowed the Seine. And the entire history of modern art.

    Montmartre had its Sacré Coeur, a kind of Byzantium-on-the-Seine. A block of white that rose and rose above the windmills, the vines, and the gardens.

    Monsieur Thiers had set the ball rolling. By provoking Montmartre, he brought about the Commune. The Parisians have conserved the city cannons which were used there. And it is clearly not by chance that the Sacré Coeur was constructed on the exact spot where the Commune was launched: the church would force the people to pay for theirrevolutionary sins.

    The basilica is enthroned above obscure hotels, riotous cabarets, flimsy shacks made of wood or tarred-over cardboard which seem to be marching up the side of the hill amid garlands of lilac and hawthorn. In the midst of this unruly maze, Isadora Duncan and her young students danced Greek-style, in bare feet and tunics, with carefree hearts. Montmartre was a village. One could sing, dance, eat and sleep there, all very cheaply. The private homes of the Avenue Junot had not yet been built. The houses of prostitution on the rue d'Amboise offered free dinners. The swishing skirts of La Gonlue and the swaying hips of Rayon d'Or still made men swoon, and the footwork of Valentin le Désossé entranced audiences. A notary's assistant by day and a dancer by night, he was the only man in the troupe of the Quadrille Réaliste, and his amazing agility thrilled the public of the Elysée-Montmartre, Soon to be succeeded by the up-and-coming Moulin Rouge.

    Bruant provoked the middle classes. Satie 'gymnopédized' at the Chat Noir, on the Boulevard Rochechouart, where Alphonse Allais was making his début. Rodolphe Salis directed the orchestra. Fifteen years before the turn of the century, this establishment disappeared, to be replaced by the Mirliton, while the paper Le Chat Noir continued to strike in every direction with its satirical claws. Allais went so far as to dip his pen in the inkwell of a more famous name: he signed his articles using the pseudonym Francisque Sarcey, who was a very real theatre critic, alive and well and writing articles which were widely followed in the review Le Temps. Another practical joke ... As for Jane Avril, the poet's mistress, she posed for Toulouse-Lautrec. Lautrec was a Montmartre painter, but he was not the first. The famous artists whose ghosts already peopled the cobbled streets of the neighbourhood were legion: Géricault, Cézanne, Manet, Van Gogh, Moreau, Renoir, Degas ... Those to come had not yet made names for themselves. They were only shadow figures for the time being. Momentarily holding their breath, they were learning in the museums, setting up shop wherever they could find a place, and awaiting their hour of glory. First in Montmartre, then in Montparnasse, and later, if the museums relayed their fame, throughout the world ...

    Was it out of self-protection, to cultivate its individuality, that Montmartre decided to fashion itself into a free commune? This may seem to have been not much more than a joke, and there was an element of that in it. But there was much more. There was also a desire for singularity, for liberty which, at the dawn of the century, led some of the area's residents to decide that the Place du Tertre should become the capital of an autonomous territory.

    A vote was held. The proposal was passed by an absolute majority. Next, a mayor was elected. Jules Depaquit, illustrator by trade, was chosen as the first administrator of the Free Commune of Montmartre. He had earned the respect of his fellow citizens a few years earlier by having been dragged to the Prefecture of Police, after rumours that he was the author of the attack on the Véry restaurant on the Boulevard Magenta.

    Although cleared of the charge — the true authors of the crime were anarchists out to take revenge for Ravachol, who had been arrested at a table in the establishment — Depaquit had gained fame from it. This would be further enhanced by the election, and soon he was being toasted in song by Francis Carco, praised by Roland Dorgelès, and admired by Nino Frank and Tristan Tzara, who saw him as one of the precursors of the Dada movement. He would also charm Picasso, who often came to listen to him recite poetry at the Lapin Agile.

    Jules Depaquit left behind a script which Satie set to music for the Comédie Parisienne, and which was adapted for the theatre by Darius Milhaud and danced by the Ballets Pusses in 1926, with a set by André Derain. Entitled Jack in the Box, this pantomime showed a man carrying a big clock, criss-crossing the stage over and over, without anyone being able to fathom what his role was. This was only revealed at the end of the last act: the man was a clockmaker.

    Depaquit made a living by selling satirical drawings to newspapers that specialized in this art. He squandered all his earnings in bistros, which he would enter standing upright, and leave filling over himself. He had a very precise schedule: he would work like a devil for a week, and party for the next three. History does not tell us which of these phases gave rise to the brilliant and eminently political idea of obtaining the independence of his people, and the separation of Montmartre from the French state.

    He preached the merits of this new statute in a thousand other communes, located for the most part in the Seine-et-Oise region near Paris, to which he was invited as the Minister Plenipotentiary of a nation in the process of being born. On the programme: wine and brass bands.

    Within the boundaries of his own territory, Jules Depaquit had perfected an infallible method for getting free drink. When he was out of cash, he would enter a café, sad and tired, his coat on his back, suitcase in hand. He would be asked:

    'Where are you going, M. Depaquit?'

    'I'm returning to my country.'

    'And where is that, your country?'

    ' Sedan.'

    'Sedan! That far?'

    'That far ... Now you see why I'm so sad ...'

    Together they would despair. A bottle would be produced for consolation, and would be emptied to help cheer them up. When all had almost been forgotten, Jules Depaquit climbed onto the tables and shouted:

    'Prussia invaded Sedan, but Montmartre will resist!'

    And the troops of the Tertre were toasted for their bravery.

    Generally, they had abdicated by the time dawn came, after having abundantly watered their furrows. But Depaquit, cheered on by his partisans, could not bring himself to capitulate. He was not Napoleon III.

    One exception, perhaps, was the day on which all of Montmartre took up arms and donned the uniforms of the soldiers of 1870 to defend Francisque Poulbot, the Butte's painter of street urchins. Poulbot loved parties and parades. Each year, in order to console his girlfriend for the fact that they had not yet tied the knot, he organized a fake marriage that was attended by all the residents of the neighbourhood. Everyone wore a disguise for the occasion, then for the rest of the night, they danced, drank, and applauded the bride.

    Poulbot got involved in a dispute with his landlord, who wanted to evict him. The painter called on his friends for help. He suggested they all don the uniform of the armies which had defended a besieged Paris before the violent explosion of the Commune, and that they barricade themselves in his lodgings, ready to show the landlord that it would cost him dearly to get at Poulbot.

    The villain threw in the towel before the fatal hour. But Poulbot maintained the fraternal summons. And so, on the planned day, the streets and alleys of Montmartre filled with a battalion of cavalrymen, zouaves, lancers, artillerymen and associates, all armed with rifles and dressed in martial attire. If Roland Dorgelès is to be believed, late in the night the Montmartre troops were joined by soldiers from the National Guard, who arrived from Montparnasse dressed in a similar way and carrying tapered bayonets, which astounded the real policemen posted along the path of these fake soldiers, marching solemnly in rhythm.

    The patrons fanned out onto the boulevards, taking aim at passers-by streaming out of movie theatres. They played at war until dawn. The armistice was signed after the troops of General Poulbot, sabres drawn and bugles trumpeting, had attacked the Moulin de la Galette.

    The games and provocations of this merry band attracted tourists and curious onlookers, who drifted in from the boulevards in their top hats and waistcoats. Fortunately, the horse-drawn omnibus didn't go all the way up the Butte Montmartre but stopped at the Place Blanche, and there remained a long climb, through steep and narrow alleyways, up to the centre of the festivities.

    Montmartre remained a place apart, protecting its singularity. It had its admirers, members of the same family — a family that hadn't yet revealed its younger branch, who would be more interested in the cross-pollination of the arts. The eldest of these would be named Pablo Picasso, André Salmon, Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire ...

   For the moment, Depaquit and his friends were the leaders. Perched on café tables, Carco sang the 'Marseillaise', and Mac Orlan roused his pals by playing the bugle under their windows. They were all anarchists at heart. They ate, but not well, drank more than the average, slept here and there, wherever they could find a place, though not yet in the Métro, whose north-south line now joined Montmartre to Montparnasse. Their identity papers were not always in order, their address was not always permanent, and they occasionally stretched out a hand to beg. Some of them painted canvases which hardly sold, some made music, many were highly skilled in the art of eating off their neighbour's plate. But the neighbours were generous, and let them run up a bill without asking too many questions. On the stoves of the bistros, pots were kept boiling and stews ladled out for customers fallen on hard times: a kind of precursor of the latter-day soup kitchen. There, painters and poets drank toasts with the many free spirits who, at the beginning of the century, roamed the streets of Montmartre.

    Of course, chance alone cannot explain their all finding themselves together in this particular neighbourhood, on the outskirts of the city, not far from the main boulevards. The steep, winding streets, which had seen hand-to-hand combat, housed men, newspapers, and a collective memory. The anarchist Libertad conducted his popular public talks on the rue Muller. The paper L'Anarchie, which had neither director nor editor-in-chief and whose moral and typographical code prohibited the use of capital letters, set up shop on the rue du Chevalier-de-la-Barre. The Libertaire was on the rue d'Orcel. Its editors met their friends and readers in the back room of the Zut, a café on the rue Norvins that the police were soon to close, to protect the ears of the state from the subversive talk of the café's regular customers. Steinlen, a Swiss painter who designed the Chat Noir posters, went elsewhere to preach his doctrine of coming revolution. And M. Duly would soon have a police record for sheltering a fellow painter whose palette was daubed with the incendiary colours red and black.

    In the years before the First World War, Juan Gris was pursued by the police and temporarily jailed, having been confused with Garnier, as central a fixture in Bonnot's band as he was a target in the sights of the police. Pierre Mac Orlan, pedestrian and chronicler of the Butte, in his classic film Quai des brumes gives an electrician a task which the libertarians of the maquis often carried out: that of forging false identity papers. He helps out a deserter from the Colonial Army who has come to get a new identity. His gesture is accompanied by words that epitomize that time and place. 'I've been spotted by the cops because of something that happened with an anarchist paper ... '

    Signac, Vallotton and Bonnard participated in lotteries in which their works were auctioned off for the profit of the Révolté, a free-thinking paper founded by Elisée Reclus and Jean Grave. Van Dongen, a friend of the anarchist writer Félix Fénéon, also participated. In 1897, he illustrated the Dutch translation of a work by Kropotkin, Anarchy, Its Philosophy and Ideals. And Vlaminck, loud and clear, trumpeted some rather devastating personal opinions — with no restrictions, and with some rather disturbing variations, alas, during the Occupation.

    But the anarchists and the artists, however much they may have shared the same ideals, did not join forces when it came to acts of violence. The painters and poets didn't play around with the infernal machines of those who planted bombs. But they would often defend them. And they were always the first to cheer at games, farces, practical jokes, provocations and mayhem of all kinds. They too turned their back on the cosy, honeyed and well-ordered comfort of bourgeois homes. In Montmartre, as later in Montparnasse, the artists remained resolutely opposed to the perfect geometry of well-ordered structures. They were, quite simply, rebels.

Excerpted from BOHEMIAN PARIS by Dan Franck. Copyright © 1998 by Dan Franck. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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