HISTORY OF MODERN FRANCE

The Third French Republic 1870-1940. Part 12


4 May 2022

 Zoom lecture 

Peggy Guggenheim seated on a Surrealist Rocker at Art of This Century Gallery, New York, 1942


French Artists in Exile: New York as Cultural Capital of the Free World

1940-1947

with Anne Catherine Abecassis

 

Paris fell to the Nazis on June 14, 1940. The world’s art center was suddenly cut off from the rest of the world. Leading French artists, many of them Surrealists, fled to America, adding to the number of those who had emigrated since 1939. A large part of the European artistic avant-garde - Léger, Chagall, Lipchitz, Mondrian, Ernst, Breton, Dali, Masson, Matta, Seligmann, Tanguy, Tchelitchew and Zadkine - found itself in New York in the 1940’s, which thanks to the war, overnight became the world capital of art.

 

Peggy Guggenheim's role in this immigration was decisive. The Art of This Century Gallery, which she opened in New York in 1942, became a central meeting and exhibition venue for both European and American artists such as Jackson Pollock, Joseph Cornell, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko and many more. The Art of This Century, but also the Pierre Matisse Gallery, played a considerable role in the defense of French and European modern art in the United States.

 

The war brought out forcefully the dark side of humanity. The urgent need for new content in art, lead the American artists who encountered French Surrealism in 1940s New York to completely re-evaluate their art. Thus, out of this seminal collision, Abstract Expressionism was born.


Jackson Pollock, Mural, 1943. (Detail) commisioned by Peggy Guggenheim

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, Iowa City