From Can Can to Soup Can: The Story of Modern Art from Paris 1850-New York 1960s

la Goulue Louise Weber  From CAN CAN …………………………………  warhol-campbellsoup[1]SOUP CAN!


This is a day of study formed of three lectures and a discussion. We follow the course of Modern Art from Paris in 1850 to New York in 1960.

Each lecture is composed of three parts: 1) The people, 2) the art and 3) where it lead.

The avant garde society in each of our periods was lively, eccentric and absolutely essential to the understanding of the art of each period. In the first session we look at the lives of the Can Can girls, the Cabarets, the dance halls. From the clothes they wore to the food and drink they consumed they made a strange, bohemian group of people living up there on ‘La Butte’ that was Montmartre. The second session is set in the Jazz Age of Paris: Josephine Baker appearing naked and carried on stage whilst wearing just a feather boa by a black giant called Joe Alex.  Foujita, Mistinguet, Maurice Chevalier and black musicians such as Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. Sylvia Beach and her bookshop of the Left Bank – and Natalie Barney with her astonishing drug fired salons that attracted so many famous names for over 60 years. Finally, the wonderful Peggy Guggenheim and her New York friends whose names have become legends: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, William de Kooning. And what about Bubbles and Buck? Bubbles the dancer who is said to have taught Fred Astaire to dance and was the inspiration behind Michael Jackson’s famous moon walk. – and why Jackson is said to have named his chimpanzee Bubbles. All fascinating, bizarre, incredible people who pushed Modern art onwards and upwards. Finishing of course with Andy Warhol and his famous cans of soup.

The day starts by considering the formation of the academies in Paris and the training that was given to students as young as 10 or 11years old. They would learn by copying classical sculpture or sketching from life in carefully controlled light. The shiny surface of a finished academic painting was seen as a guarantee of craftsmanship, The subject matter of a painting had a hierarchy with historical compositions at the top and genre and still life at the bottom. The largest canvases would be expected to display historical subject matter and the smallest a still life. Most important of all, artists needed to conform to the ideals set by the state in order to sell their works.

The challenge of the Impressionists started to change this situation. The composition and the content of their paintings changed. They painted in the open air, they painted the working classes at leisure, their subjects were no longer historical figures but real people wearing contemporary dress. When the Impressionists held their first exhibition in the studio of Nadar, the photographer, the mould was already being broken.. Picture dealers began to spring up around the city and art became a commodity. Artists could sell their works without conforming to the rules set by the academies.

In our second session, we look at art in Paris after the First World War. The art that led into the war was cubism and after the war – because of its associations with death and destruction, cubism was very much out of favour. It was believed by many French artists that the Germans had lured them away from their tradition of classical painting and there was a Call to Order – a return to the classical traditions that were seen as French – and therefore patriotic. The Ecole Francaise were principally French artists working in Paris at this time. The Ecole de Paris mainly the foreigners to the city. We look at Purism, Futurism and Surrealism.

We finish in New York. With the outbreak of World War 11, many French artists left for New York where there were patrons ready to buy their paintings and support them. Peggy Guggenheim was the catalyst that brought together the French artists and their Surrealist techniques with the New York school of artists. This collision of ideas produced a new art – an art of freer brushstrokes, an art that was bigger and more mural like – and art that turned into the first truly American art. This was the art of Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionism took a while to fall out of fashion because it was seen as a patriotic art, But it was hard to talk about, it looked inward and in the new consumer society of USA it was seen as self obsessive and out of place in the new throw away society. Pop art took its place and after Jasper Johns and his partner Rauschenberg had made the first steps, it is with Andy Warhol and his famous cans that we finish our special interest day.  Questions and discussions to finish.

Each session will be accompanied by music of the period.