Pappas on Carter and Waller, eds. (2015)

Carter, Karen, and Susan Waller, editors. Foreign Artists and Communities in Modern Paris, 1870–1914: Strangers in Paradise.  Ashgate/Routledge, 2015, pp. xxii + 266, ISBN 978-1-4724-4354-0

In the opening pages of their sixteen-essay Foreign Artists and Communities in Modern Paris, 1870–1914: Strangers in Paradise, Karen L. Carter and Susan Waller describe the volume as one that seeks to challenge “the conventional Franco-centric interpretation of the modern period [in the visual arts] by exploring international migration and networks of exchange within the transnational artistic community situated in Paris” (2). Instead of French art as the epicenter of what would become some of the most famous modern art in the world, Carter and Waller’s volume questions the characterization of Parisian art production as supremely French, arguing instead for Paris as a “multiethnic and multicultural capital of the visual arts” (2). For Foreign Artists, not only does this period link to the foundations of what would eventually become globalization, but at that time the very idea of Paris as the center of the (Western) art world, as a “global city,” depended on immigration (12). Although the end date for Foreign Artists (1914) was chosen because World War I brought on nationalistic sentiment that changed the international art community in Paris (indeed, as many of the authors note, 1914 was frequently, though not always, the year international artists would decide or be forced to leave), one other goal of the volume is to question the divide between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as any kind of strict demarcation for the visual arts (19).

Foreign Artists and Communities in Modern Paris is divided into four sections and has a specific focus on artists who stayed in Paris for a longer period of time or who became permanent residents. The categorizing of these international artists is intentionally fluid and varied relative to the situation: migrant, expatriate, sojourner, cosmopolitan, immigrant, émigré, exile. Part I, Institutions and Networks, focuses on the more official organizations in the Parisian art world and in the home countries of international artists (exhibition venues, salons, academies and art schools, the rapidly expanding art press, galleries, and dealers). This section questions the swift transition from the Salon system to the dealer/critic system by describing a new world where academic and independent overlapped and were made even more complex in a multicultural context (articles by Norma Broude, Maite van Dijk, Carter, and Nicholas Sawicki).

Part II, Expatriate Communities, passes from the institution to the collective group. The essays (by Ewa Bobrowska, Emily C. Burns, Laura Karp Lugo, and Richard D. Sonn) discuss what Paris had to offer to groupings of foreign artists, while noting the limitations and the hostilities they encountered. This section also documents what Paris represented for female artists (Burns notes that almost one third of American art students in Paris during this time were women, as were a quarter of Polish artists in Paris in 1913, according to Bobrowska).

Parts III and IV, Incomers and Outsiders and Cosmopolitans and Hybridities, focus on specific artists and individual cases. Sharon Hecker and J. Thomas Rimer examine artists who occupied the space between assimilation and identification with their home country. Juliet Bellow questions the modernist myth of the premiere of the Ballets Russes’ Le Sacre du printemps while Susan Waller revisits British painter Gwen John’s relationship to feminism. In Part IV, I would add the word “intersections” to the section title of cosmopolitans and hybridities: the intersection of transnationalism and the sexually non-normative, of progressive and nationalistic art, of Western oil painting and Japanese history, and the mix of bohemia, popular culture, commercialism, avant-garde painting, and Futurism (articles by Paul Fisher, Cindy Kang, Donald F. McCallum, and Zoë Marie Jones).

The strength of Foreign Artists is the diversity that is allowed for and described in the collection: the communities in Paris created by foreign and immigrant artists; artists who, through their exposure to Paris and to France, interrogated and celebrated their own ethnic/cultural/national identity; artists who questioned the very notion of national identity through everything from hybrids to “cross-cultural cross-dressing”; artists who found freedom and professional advantages in Paris that did not exist in their home country; and finally artists who were forced to trade on stereotypical representations of their own culture in order to survive and who confronted French nationalism in the art world. Paris emerges as both welcoming and unwelcoming. There is rich and complex evidence of international artists’ presence in Paris and how that presence affected their art and the art scene in their home country; however, with the notable exception of a few of the essays, such as Laura Karp Lugo’s contribution on Catalan artists’ effect on “the Parisian artistic landscape” (112), the question of how foreign presence might alter our understanding of French art of the period is left unanswered. It may be that Foreign Artists will lay the foundation for further research into the influence of international artists on French art itself. The volume reveals just how much transnational dialogue flowed through the Parisian art scene and, as Juliet Bellow points out in her essay on the Ballets Russes, how important it is to ask not just what was Modernism, but “where was Modernism?” and “who can claim it?” (165).

Sara Pappas
University of Richmond
Volume 45.1-2