A loosely affiliated group of artists working in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century up to the Second World War.
The Origins of School of Paris
Artists associated with the School of Paris, also known as Ecole de Paris, are regarded as innovators of modern art, working in styles as diverse as Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Art. They include Picasso, Matisse, Chagall and Modigliani. The term initially referred specifically to non-French artists who had settled in the city but was later used more generally, to acknowledge Paris as the international centre of the art world between the two world wars. The American art critic Harold Rosenberg defined the style in his essay, The Fall of Paris, 1940:
‘In the ‘School of Paris’, belonging to no one country, but world-wide and world timed and pertinent everywhere, the mind of the twentieth century projected itself into possibilities that will occupy mankind during many cycles of social adventures to come.’
With its established art scene and liberated politics, turn of the century Paris was immensely appealing to foreign artists and became a popular mecca, attracting creative voices from around the world. Many of the masters of modern art resided there including Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, French artists Georges Rouault and Henri Matisse, Italian Amedeo Modigliani and Russian Marc Chagall. The artists congregated in the Montmartre and Montparnasse districts of the city, bringing together a melting pot of cultural ideas old and new. Given their various cultural backgrounds there was no one defining style to typify the school, aside from an anti-establishment attitude, but instead the imaginative cross fertilisation of ideas and pluralism became recognisable features of the era. Many depicted Parisian society and its people, addressing subjects with a moral or social conscience such as poverty or alienation, as seen in Picasso’s Mere et enfant (Mother and Child), 1902.
Les Maudits (the cursed ones)
Modigliani, along with Frenchman Maurice Utrillo, Russian Chaim Soutine and Bulgarian Jules Pascin grouped together in 1909 to form the sub group les maudits (the cursed ones), united by their poverty and illness, which was reflected in both the style and subject matter of their angst ridden paintings, as seen in Soutine’s Les Mas Passe-Temps, Ceret, 1920-21. Chagall’s paintings, by contrast, were coloured with fantastical and optimistic colour and imagery that reflected his native Russian Folklore, illustrating the artist’s optimism and celebrations of love.
With the outbreak of World War II many artists fled Paris, returning to their homeland or to America. The war brought Paris’ flourishing art scene to an end, to be superseded by the rise of the New York school and Abstract Expressionism.