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School of Paris



The School of Paris is not a school in the strict sense of the term, as applied by Walter Adolph Gropius (1883–1969) to the Bauhaus, nor is it simply a group of artists working in Paris. Its more complex genesis is connected with social and political conditions and with modern artistic practices during the period 1910–1930 in Paris. Artists of different nationalities and various disciplines settled in Montmartre or Montparnasse before the First World War and thus formed a melting pot of foreign artists who had fled their countries of origin or were drawn to Paris as a cultural center. The most famous of these included Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Tsuguharu Foujita, Amedeo Modigliani, Juan Gris, Moise Kisling, Jacques Lipchitz, and Ossip Zadkine. This cosmopolitan circle was mainly based in La Ruche—a pavilion that was still standing from the 1900 Exhibition—which housed some artists' studios. On this site, around one hundred forty artists, painters, and sculptors, both immigrants and French (including Henri Laurens, Alexander Archipenko, Fernand Léger, Moise Kogan, and Chaim Soutine) associated with writers and poets such as Guillaume Apollinaire or Blaise Cendrars. These particular conditions contributed to this dual production that was both literary (proliferating through publication in many New York journals) and artistic.


In addition to their precarious social situation (no status and little income), the foreign artists were confronted with the difficulties of exhibiting their work in the face of the "official" French artists. The political, social, denominational, cultural, and linguistic differences of these artists revived the anti-Semitism and xenophobia that had been exacerbated by the context of the First World War. Then, the economic crisis of the 1930s was leaving marks of hatred throughout Europe and contributing to the rise of the extreme right. Confronted with this rise in racism and xenophobia characterized by an underlying reticence toward the artistic cosmopolitan circle, some Parisian critics sought to establish legitimacy for the innovative artists, in the awareness that the latter were helping to transform the Parisian art scene by simultaneously bringing their own artistic practice and personal experience to bear. In January 1925, in a series of articles in Comœdia and a book published in October 1925 entitled Les berceaux de la jeune peinture: L'École de Paris (The cradles of modern painting: The School of Paris), André Warnod coined the name School of Paris and championed a contemporary French independent art from the Academy against the official art. He wanted the foreign artists to be integrated alongside the French artists. He strongly accorded "recognition to the art of foreigners working in Paris" and emphasized the fact that "the School of Paris exists. Art historians of the future will be better placed than we are to define its nature and to study its constituent elements, but we can still assert its existence and its magnetic force, which is bringing us artists from all over the world.… The part played by the works of Picasso, Pascin, Foujita and so on in contemporary art is well known" and the foreign artists "also definitely assert the existence of the School of Paris." Warnod's recognition of this "school" marked the resurgence of Paris as an artistic center and gave legitimacy to the foreign artists living and working there since the beginning of the twentieth century and producing independent modern art. The School of Paris became a reflection both on artistic matters and on cultural acceptance. The production of a body of painting by national geniuses gave way to a cosmopolitan painting. It was not until the end of the 1920s that several exhibitions were held by the School of Paris. The sixteenth Venice Biennale in 1928 devoted a room to the School of Paris that was separate from the room in which French art was represented.

The different artistic practices formed a productive melting pot. In painting from 1911, the cubism of Georges Braque and Picasso, inspired by primitivism, was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants. The movement was joined by Juan Gris, Alexander Archipenko, Diego Rivera, Jean Crotti, Alice Bailly, Gino Severini, and Leopold Survage. Sonia Delaunay, Marc Chagall, Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, and Frantisek Kupka were sensitive to the chromatic contrasts of "Orphism."Piet Mondrian produced abstract paintings that resulted from a new interpretation of art, while other painters, such as Jules Pascin, Kisling, Eugene Zak, Chaim Soutine, Foujita, and Modigliani, continued with figurative art and portraiture. Constantin Brancusi's sculptural practices (he set off from Romania on foot in 1904 to reach Paris) presented reflections on the honing of the figure and on the plinth not only as a pedestal but also as an integral part of the art work. Joszef Csaky and Jacques Lipchitz transposed cubist explorations into three dimensions. Ossip Zadkine produced "primitive" sculptures with refined forms, while Foujita, Modigliani, and Archipenko pursued their pictorial reflections in sculpture.

From the 1920s, artistic activity in Paris also changed through the practice of photography. A group of independent foreign photographers such as Brassaï (Gyula Halász, who lived in Paris from 1924 and published Paris after Dark in 1933), Man Ray (who came from New York), André Kertész (a Hungarian artist like Brassaï), Paul Outerbridge, George Hoyningen-Huene, Berenice Abbott, Germaine Krull, Laure Albin-Guillot, and Madame D'Ora (most of the photographers in the School of Paris were women) produced mainly photographs combining Parisian elements with ones from their countries of origin. In May 1928 the first Salon Indépendant de la Photographie was opened.

The continuation of the School of Paris and its international impact from 1910 to 1920 were due to the support of foreign art dealers. Paris became the setting for meetings between artists, writers, poets, intellectuals, dealers, and collectors in the circle of the American writer Gertrude Stein (who settled in Paris in 1903), who played a fundamental role in the exchanges between Paris and the United States while giving huge support to the foreign artists working in Paris. The breakthrough of artists from the School of Paris became increasingly apparent in the 1920s and 1930s. The circulation of art works via the activity of foreign art dealers once again legitimized the name "School of Paris" and defined the French capital as a modern metropolis and forum of exchange until the outbreak of the Second World War, which encouraged artists to flee to the United States.


From 1941, there was a revival of figurative painting that prepared the way for a second "School of Paris." After the Second World War, the abstract work of action painters such as Hans Hartung, Pierre Soulages, Gerard Schneider, and of informel artists such as Jean Dubuffet and Jean Fautrier, or again the artists of the Denise René gallery, gave rise to new explorations. The term School of Paris was used once again, thenceforth as an obsolete and clumsy reference to a Parisian scene that was at the center of artistic creative production at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1947 the opening of the Jeu de Paume gallery and the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris testified to a desire for rapprochement between French cultural institutions and contemporary painting. The "elders" of the School of Paris were thenceforth consecrated there. It seems fitting to give the final words to Constantin Brancusi, who said in 1922: "In art, there are no foreigners."

See alsoAvant-Garde; Braque, Georges; Chagall, Marc; Gropius, Walter; Picasso, Pablo; Stein, Gertrude.


Brassaï. Paris after Dark. Translated by Stuart Gilbert. New York, 1987.

Chapiro, Jacques. La Ruche. Paris, 1960.

Dorival, Bernard. L'École de Paris au Musée national d'art moderne. Paris, 1961.

L'École de Paris, 1904–1925: La part de l'autre: Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 30 novembre 2000 au 11 mars 2001. Paris, 2000.

L'École de Paris? 1945–1964. Luxembourg, 1998.

Warnod, Jeanine. L'École de Paris: Dans l'intimitéde Chagall, Foujita, Pascin, Cendrars, Carco, Mac Orlan, à Montmartre et à Montparnasse. Paris, 2004.

Caroline Tron-Carroz

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