Immoveable Feasts of French Modernism

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John Seed reviews Jed Perl's recently re-issued book Paris Without End: On French Art Since World War I (Arcade Publishing) and interviews the author. The book includes essays on Matisse, Derain, Dufy, Léger, Picasso, Braque, Giacometti, Hélion, and Balthus.

Seed writes: "Conceived as a kind of 'love letter,' this billet-doux between two covers was addressed not only to the eight dead and one living artist (Balthus) who Perl had written about, but also to the many living artists and others who the author felt would share his view that many of the seminal achievements — and lesser known periods — of French modernism’s 'Old Masters' had been ignored, pushed aside or wrongly dismissed… Perhaps the book’s most convincing and revelatory chapter, 'Popular Dance Halls,' paints Fernand Léger as the 'unsinkable vessel' of Parisian styles and ideas: in Perl’s estimation, his work is 'never less than first rate.' Perl also credits Léger with pulling off a rather amazing trick: his art 'revels in clichés,' and 'operates in the very midst of mass culture without getting generally sullied by it.' Reading those words, I felt a renewed interest in Léger. I hadn’t heard him praised in those terms before and Perl’s essay left me wanting to look at his work with new eyes."

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