In ‘Montmartre’, Roe argues with a hefty support of exceptional scholarship, that Modernist Art was a product of the first decade of twentieth century Montmartre, not born in the 1920s to (in her words) ‘the accompaniment of Charleston, black jazz and mint juleps’. It was the product of the cross pollination between artists, writers, dancers, designers, and circus acrobats and clowns migrating into a very destitute Montmartre from all points of Europe and America (at one point André Salmon commented, referring to Picasso’s group, that there were more Spaniards in the bar Hotel des Deux Hemispheres than he had ever seen is Spain) and experimenting, associating, failing forward, and little by little finding a new voice that by 1920 was fully formed and being expressed on all the arts and exploding onto the world stage.
Drawing from a vast bibliography of primary sources and with a graceful and engaging prose she paints a lively group portrait of this motley crew that was to be collectively known as Post-Impressionists that reads like a veritable novel. Over the course of a decade, we follow this group of artists’ formative years in an environment of open and free experimentation among clowns, prostitutes, dancers and acrobats and the constant arrival of artists of diverse cultural backgrounds as they develop their own generational voice and artistic expression. The artist’s goal now would be rather to free the picture from all imitative and conventional contact and create a reality rather than imitate one, express the artist’s reaction to life, be it by the subjective use of color (Cezzanne, Matisse, Derain and others) or form (Braque and Picasso and others) and breaking with all rules in literature (Stein), theater and dance.
An engaging narration hard to put down, fascinating and accessible information presented in an elegant and accessible prose. Very recommended.