As Erik Desmazières, director of Musée Marmottan Manet (and an artist himself), said while touring a group around, “I am happy that this exhibition is bringing back “tout ce petit monde”, this small world of artists on the front stage from which they had disappeared”. What he meant was that Christian Bérard, Eugene and Leonid Berman, Pavel Tchelitchew, Pierre Charbonnier, Alexandre Serebriakoff, Sir Francis Rose… did not receive the fame of their contemporaries and slowly disappeared. The exhibition “Neo Romantics, a forgotten moment in Modern Art, 1926-1972”, is a precious gathering of paintings, of decorative arts, refinement and friendship between artists who were all very close to each other and loved to party and abuse of substances. A very non politically correct world by today’s standards. And a very “gay” world which was particularly successful in the U.S.
This painting by Sir Francis Rose is an imaginary academy which includes Natalie Barney and Serge Lifar, Georges Maratier and Christian Bérard, the painter himself in red, Pavel Tchelitchew, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrud Stein (who greatly helped his career), Jean Cocteau, Louis Bromfield, Tyrone Power, Virgil Thomson and Francis Picabia with whom he trained. It is the first painting which the visitor discovers in the exhibition, conceived by Patrick Mauriès on Erik Desmazières’s idea.
The group started started with an impromptu exhibition on rue Royale at Galerie Druet in 1926. Very few French museums bought these artists and most paintings here come from private collectors or American museums like the MFA in Boston or the remarkable Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, which owns Eugène Berman‘s fabulous series of “Scenes of Bohemian life”, inspired by Sicilian landscapes, and made for the Farmington dining room of James Thrall Soby. Maybe, these painters partied too much; maybe, they were judged as decorators more than as artists and this is certainly true of Christian Bérard who created theater and film decors and costumes, and worked closely with Jean Cocteau who used Jean Bourgoing as a model for his film “Les Enfants Terribles”. But they nevertheless were great painters and inventive artists.
The numerous letters that they all exchanged show a high degree of intimacy between the different artists who also often exchanged lovers. And an interesting topography of Neo Romanticism shows the links to American, Italian and British creative circles via Gertrud Stein for American collectors, Christian Dior who exhibited them early when he had a gallery. Writers such as Julien Green or Edith Sitwell and photographers such as Horst also, were precious links.
Erik Desmazières was surrounded by charming ladies including the new curator of Marmottan, Sylvie Carlier, who came from Musée Dini in Villefranche-sur-Saône, the two scenographers Catherine Rouland and Frédérique Paoletti, and Anne Sophie Luyton who coordinated the show.
While there were an exhibition of Christian Bérard’s last year in Evian and in Monaco, there are many unknown pieces here coming from private collections. There are also two Murano glass vases by Eugene Berman, who designed them for Venini along with Giovanni Ponti and Piero Fornasetti and an unusual portrait of Marie Laure de Noailles who “looks like Snow White”. The origin of the show comes from Patrick Mauriès who published a book on this theme a year ago at Flammarion, on painters who refused to follow the abstract fashion of the 1920’s and pursued their love for figurative painting. Only one woman is part of this group, Thérèse Debains, with a few portraits.
The atmosphere was very whimsical in the museum which belongs to Académie des Beaux Arts and displays part of the fabulous Monet collection downstairs. A few paintings by Joan Mitchell are still visible and in the “Dialogues inattendus” series paintings by Marc Antoine Fehr in connection with “Le Pont de l’Europe, Gare Saint Lazare” did not entirely convince me even though I like the idea of rapprochement between contemporary artists and Claude Monet.
Until June 18 at Musée Marmottan Monet.
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