The Museum of Modern Art in Paris has opened an exhibition on the School of Paris due to end on March 11th 2001.
The School of Paris in fact did not truly exist as a movement since its name was invented by some art critics who were at a loss regarding how they would classify many of the foreign painters who had settled in the French capital after 1900.
At that time Paris was a kind of heaven for hundreds of artists and surely the best place where they would enjoy maximum freedom. The exhibition starts with Pablo Picasso's installation in 1900 at the Bateau Lavoir studio in Montmartre and ends with the 1929 economic crisis though artists labelled as members of the School of Paris continued to work until the outbreak of World War Two.
Most of them were foreigners, especially Jewish like Chagall, Soutine, Pascin, Krémègne, Kikoïne, Kisling, Modigliani, Zak, Hayden, Marcoussis or Mané-Katz.
At the start they lived in poverty though they strove to be the actors of the incredible night life prevailing in Montmartre or Montparnasse between 1910 and 1929.
As they were foreigners they tended to stick together forming a group apart from Parisian natives who were somewhat wary of strangers.
There was in fact no theoreticians nor true leaders within that school which reunited painters who worked in different styles. Its main representatives were Modigliani, Chagall, Soutine, Kilsing, Pascin or Foujita, a Japanese artist who already won fame during the early 1920s in Montparnasse.
Still many art historians have been at odds regarding how they would consider the School of Paris. Some of them have gone as far as linking Picasso, Matisse, Rouault and scores of artists to that so-called movement while others have not.
It is therefore difficult to give a clear insight about its boundaries.
What prompted foreignb painters, especially from Russia, Poland and other Eastern European countries, to come to Paris was at first the world-wide reputation of French Salons as well as the fact as the fact that France was considered as a land of freedom.
In addition, their arrival in Paris coincided with an extraordinary artistic revolution that was under way at that time. The short-lived Fauve movement had emerged in 1904 before the triumph of Cubism, which started to pave its way three years later.
Many artists were thus staging a decisive battle against classicism and were about to leave their marks on the history of art.
The main stars of painting were Picasso, Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck, Braque, Marquet, Gris or Van Dongen while the foreign painters who had settled in the French capital were still much attached to their roots. They were bringing with them their traditions but were readily eager to express their feelings in using the new forms of art they were beginning to get acquainted with.
Chagall clang to Jewish traditions in his works in which he instilled Constructivist and Cubist influences while several other Jewish painters like Soutine or Mintchine seemingly could not detach themselves from the memories of the terrible sufferings of their communities in Eastern Europe.
What made the School of Paris so particular was its apparent link with German Expressionism. Overall, these painters expressed their feelings on the canvas without restriction though the French public was not really receptive to Expressionism, a fact that had been demonstrated by the short existence of Fauvism, a movement that disappeared just before the First World War.
As a result of the economic crisis that affected Europe at the end of the 1920s anti-Semitism grew rapidly throughout the continent and French art critics went on to loathe those foreign artists who in their opinion were perverting French art. Around 1935 they increasingly called for a return of old French artistic values in art and many Jewish artists became progressively ostracised well before the outbreak of the Second World War. Adrian Darmon