“École de Paris” In and Out of Paris (1928–1930) A Transregional Perspective on the Exhibitions of the “School of Paris” in Venice, Cambridge, Recife, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro

École de Paris In and Out of Paris (1928–1930)

A Transregional Perspective on the Exhibitions of the School of Paris in Venice, Cambridge, Recife, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro

Annabel Ruckdeschel

During the first decades of the twentieth century, the Paris quarter of Montparnasse became a focal point for an internationalized art field, and artists’ transnational mobility and migration laid the basis for the city’s image as cosmopolitan hub. Art critics and curators of the interwar period soon used the term École de Paris (“School of Paris”) for artists who immigrated to the French capital, and more rarely for French artists who attracted these foreigners with their art and academies, thus underscoring Paris’s status as a center of modern art. In the recent past, numerous studies on the School of Paris have focused on the role of foreign artists within the Parisian art scene and its dynamics of inclusion and exclusion.[1] The present article, however, examines how the label was shaped within transregional dynamics. It focuses on artists and critics that were both active within Paris and curated exhibitions of the School of Paris elsewhere. Thus, they transformed and relocated the label and the implied image of Paris as a center of modern art and a site of migrant artists.

The School of Paris is very difficult to characterize, because it does not constitute a homogenous artistic movement, stylistic approach, or consistent stable of artists in its exhibitions. This is why Sophie Krebs described it as an art-critical label that later was adopted by art institutions.[2] The art critic André Warnod coined the term in the newspaper Comœdia in 1925, whereupon it made its way into art-critical and art historical writings and museums.[3] He described Paris—and more precisely, the Montparnasse district—as the outstanding center of attraction for artists from all over the world, including Amedeo Modigliani, Chaïm Soutine, Marc Chagall, Tsuguharu Foujita, and Pablo Picasso.[4] “School of Paris” was an ambivalent label. On the one hand, art critics linked it to the ideal of freedom and peaceful coexistence of foreign and French artists who pursued cubism and expressive figuration. Thus, they justified artistic migration to the city and rejected the existing xenophobia and anti-Semitism of the French art scene. On the other hand, in the service of more nationalist positions, the label confirmed the hegemony of the French capital over international modern art.[5] In both cases, the School of Paris was closely linked to an image of Paris as a center of modern art that could be formulated in different ways.

It is certain that the label appeared first in Paris. But the School of Paris was by no means a local matter in the years that followed. Numerous international exhibitions relocated the image of Paris as a migrants’ city abroad. The first monographic exhibition of the School of Paris did not take place in Paris, but in Venice (1928). An exhibition in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1929), and a traveling exhibition through Brazil, in Recife, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro (1930), also took place. Many others followed, but it is these three exhibitions in Italy, the United States, and Brazil that I will examine here in more detail.[6] They show how the label of the School of Paris, oscillating between cosmopolitanism and nationalism, was shaped within transregional dynamics. Furthermore, these exhibitions shed light on a phenomenon that is rarely addressed when analyzing the School of Paris. The artists and art critics examined here were transmigrants, and were active at more than one site of modern art.[7] They often maintained close ties not only to their adopted country but also to their place of origin.

Within this chronological micro-perspective on the globally scattered phenomenon of School of Paris exhibitions, I intend to highlight the active role of artists and critics involved in the circulation and relocation of the image of Paris as a center of migration. We will see how artists and critics from Paris and abroad collaborated on the international exhibitions of the School of Paris. On the one hand, these exhibitions demonstrated the involvement of artists and critics in a vibrant, leading art center, and on the other, they were always part of tendencies abroad that coped with or counteracted the hegemony of Paris. To examine these aspects, I analyze exhibition catalogues and press material on the international School of Paris exhibitions between 1928 and 1930, which thus far have been underexposed. First, I will demonstrate that the School of Paris, as an art-critical and institutional label of the Parisian interwar period, oscillated between nationalist and cosmopolitan claims. Second, I present two strategies of School of Paris exhibitions abroad that served artists and critics: one highlighting national art in other countries and competing with Parisian hegemony in art (Venice 1928, and Cambridge, MA, 1929), and one embracing its cosmopolitan universalism (Recife/Rio de Janeiro/São Paulo, 1930).

The School of Paris Label between Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism within Paris

In Paris of the interwar period, the School of Paris label was coevolving with the internationalization of the art scene in Montparnasse. Parisian art critics used it both to exclude foreign artists from the Parisian art scene as a separate case and to include them as an integral part of French art.[8] As I will point out, in Parisian art criticism the label was both used for nationalist and cosmopolitan claims. Warnod repeatedly referred to Paris, and Montparnasse in particular, as the world center of modern art, and the arrival of foreign artists evidenced this fact. In this sense, the School of Paris meant not only a welcoming of the artists’ migration to the city, but was in conformity with more nationalist narratives on modern art, underlining the prominent role of the French capital in the universal development of modern art. These ambivalent implications, oscillating between cosmopolitan ideals and French universalism, were also used within the Montparnasse art scene to ascribe central importance to artistic activity there. I will therefore examine the ambiguities of Warnod’s concept of the School of Paris and its transfer to the art scene of Montparnasse in the case of the magazine Montparnasse.

The Montparnasse district was already an important contact point for foreign artists in Paris before and after the caesura of the First World War.[9] During the 1920s the district offered a low-priced alternative to the increasingly expensive Latin Quarter. Also contrasting with the artists’ quarter of Montmartre and its charm of the fin de siècle, Montparnasse was appreciated for its progressiveness and lack of tradition. Free art academies like the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and the Académie André Lhote gave foreign artists easy access. Furthermore, cafés like La Rotonde, Le Dôme, and Café du Parnasse played a central role for the newcomers to Montparnasse. Often without well-equipped accommodation, foreign artists and intellectuals could dine here, establish new contacts, and find out about events in their home countries through the international press provided. Especially for Jewish artists from Eastern Europe, who experienced political persecution and repression, the quarter offered an important refuge.[10] But also numerous artists and intellectuals from other European countries, Japan, and Latin America came to Montparnasse.[11] Artists from North America profited from the favorable exchange rate, especially before the financial crisis of 1929, and the free lifestyle, in contrast to the Prohibition era in the United States.[12] Jazz music and the revue nègre with its famous dancer, Josephine Baker, increased the popularity and interest in black culture, and African-American artists who passed through Paris could get access to art academies that remained for the most part inaccessible to them in the United States.[13]

All these developments meant that Montparnasse was extremely international in the interwar years. Its heterogeneity, however, was subject to constant hostility from xenophobic and anti-Semitic French critics.[14] One of the fiercest opponents was Camille Mauclair. In his polemic two-volume La farce de l’art vivant, he assaulted Montparnasse as a place of internationalist and bolshevist excesses, of irreversible decay, and of the decline of French art.[15] There were also attempts in the independent exhibition scene to restrain the multinational mixture of the art scene. In view of the increasing participation of foreign artists, in 1924 the Salon des indépendants established a display organized by nationality. Many foreign artists, who were no longer exhibited in the main part of the salon but in more remote rooms, felt excluded and protested against the measure in consequence.[16]

As Sophie Krebs and Kate Kangaslahti have pointed out, the concept of the School of Paris, described by critic André Wanrod in his articles in Comœdia and in his book Les berceaux de la jeune peinture in 1925, helped to counter such developments.[17] Warnod integrated immigrated artists into a narrative about French art, thus acknowledging their contribution to modern art. He compared the forces of the School of Paris with that of the former Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, except that it was not institutionalized. According to Warnod, it spread the reputation of French art and attracted artists from all over the world. He emphasized the benefits of this artistic migration movement:

It is certain in any case that Paris is currently an extremely active art center and that in this concert the French, those of yesterday and those of today, occupy the best place. The French art of today is of a prodigious richness. What moral and even material benefits would France derive from this supremacy, if it were official that it ruled over the art of all the countries of the world![18]

Although the critic uses a national-chauvinist rhetoric here, his concept of the School of Paris contained an open concept of French art that embraced foreign influences and heterogeneity. Thus, Warnod’s idea of the School of Paris drew on the legal basis of French citizenship that was grounded not on ethnic descent or blood, but on residence and socialization.[19] Emphasizing the superiority of French art, he nevertheless actively supported foreign artists in Paris. In his monograph, he especially highlighted foreign artists who had come to Paris before the First World War, such as Tsuguharu Foujita, Amedeo Modigliani, Jules Pascin, and Marc Chagall.[20]

Warnod’s writing strongly oscillates between French superiority and cosmopolitan ideals, and the use of the School of Paris label was instrumentalized differently in the years that followed. Within Paris it was both rejected and accepted. For art critics like Waldemar George, who in 1931 campaigned for strengthening a national genius, the School of Paris did not meet such an objective.[21] However, the exhibition Les maîtres de l’art indépendant, which took place at the Petit Palais in 1937, in parallel to the Exposition internationale des arts et techniques dans la vie moderne, underscored its outstanding role for Parisian independent art.[22] The curator of the show and director of the Petit Palais, Raymond Escholier, used this label synonymously for independent art, which, “for thirty years, has established itself abroad and has brought the prestige of the École de Paris to a very high level.”[23] Here, the label was used to emphasize the international appeal of Paris and French artists such as Matisse, Derain, and Braque.

Fig. 1. Front and back cover of the exhibition catalogue Les cent du Parnasse, June 1921, Café du Parnasse, Paris.

In the international artistic milieu, however, the School of Paris was framed differently. Here, the image of Paris as the center of modern art helped to advocate a cosmopolitan mixture in art. In this respect, the magazine Montparnasse (1914, 1921–1930) played a decisive role. It promulgated the image of Montparnasse as cosmopolitan hub. Montparnasse was one of several Paris-based art magazines advocating internationalism and supporting migrating artists.[24] Montparnasse arose from the collaboration of the French critics Paul Husson and Géo-Charles with artists of different nationalities, such as the German Otto Freundlich, the Russian-born Marie Vassilieff, and the Brazilian painter Vicente do Rego Monteiro, who administered the journal in 1930 and distributed it in Brazil. In addition, the magazine was closely linked to the internationalist independent exhibitions of the Compagnie ambulante de peintres et sculpteurs, which was founded at a first group exhibition at Café du Parnasse and went on exhibiting in the quarter’s cafés.[25] These exhibitions followed eclectic principles in terms of artists’ nationality and style.[26] In this sense, the journalist and critic Serge Romoff wrote in the foreword to the first exhibition catalogue, “We were fortunate enough to settle here in this artistic center of Montparnasse, which is the crossroads of the world’s largest capital, in this Paris, which is the capital of the Great International Republic of Letters and the Arts.”[27] Romoff refers here to the crossroads of Boulevard Raspail and Boulevard du Montparnasse, where Café du Parnasse was located. This image of Montparnasse as center of the world is mirrored by the cover of the catalogue for the second exhibition (fig. 1). With a similar stance, the editors of Montparnasse held that the intersection of the Boulevard Raspail with the Boulevard du Montparnasse, where the Cafe du Parnasse and La Rotonde faced Le Dôme, was a site of artistic migration and cosmopolitan mixture:

On this great intellectual crossroads where the sons of all races mingle and are united in a common ideal of art—where the art of tomorrow is being developed, where the fusion of the peoples of Europe and the World is perhaps being prepared, Montparnasse wants to be a small spark before the future blaze.[28]

The collaborators of Montparnasse later linked this view to the School of Paris. As Escholier did with regard to Les maîtres de l’art indépendant, the Belgian artist and collaborator of Montparnasse, Pierre-Louis Flouquet, used the School of Paris label synonymously for the independent art scene, this time with regard to the Salon d’Automne in 1928, but, in contrast, he emphasized its internationality, which was strongly detached from a French paradigm in art:

There is nothing specific French about this Salon. As much as the Salon des Indépendants, it is a very Parisian Salon, i.e. European, i.e. global. Its ensemble is international. Its substance is international. Derived from the great guiding principles revealed by the masters who gave life to the School of Paris, it expresses the said School in more or less plastic, subtle nuances. School of Paris! Yes, but a School of Paris imagined by a thousand foreign brains tested by the spiritual fever of artists of all latitudes.[29]

The School of Paris, as it was a developing concept in the 1920s and staged in subsequent international exhibitions, always contained a form of universalism: Paris was presented as the city par excellence that set the standards of art throughout the world, and immigration to Paris evidenced this fact. This universalism, however, moved on a scale between nationalist and cosmopolitan claims, which were not always clearly distinguished, and sometimes merged smoothly into one another.

Regarding the international exhibitions of the School of Paris, we can observe two types of exhibitions that dealt with this ambiguity differently. Relocating the image of Paris-Montparnasse as a migrants’ center of art and of the School of Paris label provided two strategies for artists and curators to cope with a francocentric narrative of modern art abroad. Either they adopted the concept of the School of Paris as a model for developing their own national art, sometimes staging their capitals as alternatives to Paris, or they accepted the central status of Paris and considered it a model for internationalist and cosmopolitan collaboration.

Paris versus Rome and New York: The School of Paris at the Venice Biennale and in Cambridge

One of the very first exhibitions of the School of Paris took place at the 16th Venice Biennale in 1928. Despite its internationalism, this group exhibition served as a platform for Italian national art. Under its director, Antonio Maraini, the Biennale supported fascist cultural policy. On the one hand, the Biennale attempted to highlight the achievements of Italian art, and most of the Padiglione Centrale (central pavilion) was reserved for nineteenth-century Italian art. On the other hand, the Biennale sought for a stance toward the internationalized art field that could be harmonized with fascist values. Hence, Margherita Sarfatti, a renowned art critic, member of the Biennale’s board of directors, and collaborator of Benito Mussolini, opted for a contribution of foreign artists to the Italian art exhibition in the central pavilion.[30] The exhibition of the School of Paris offered an opportunity to show Italian modern art as part of a progressive international movement, as well as to underscore its particularity. Thus, the Italian artist Renato Paresce was given the responsibility for an exhibition entitled Scuola di Parigi (School of Paris). The painter Mario Tozzi wrote an accompanying introduction for the Biennale’s catalogue.

The School of Paris obtained a prominent place in the central pavilion, where it was shown separately from the other exhibition rooms, just to the left of the entrance in room 40. Paresce brought together seventy-one works by forty-three artists from different countries, but all of them were working in Paris, such as Chagall and Foujita.[31] Tozzi stressed in his catalogue text the attractive effect that Paris had on artists from all cardinal directions. Nevertheless, he used the School of Paris to underscore Italian particularism in art:

[I]t will be interesting to find out how the different races react in the Paris melting pot, and how, despite everything, the savor of the native land and the color of the ancestral traditions remain intact in these artists […]. The small group of Italians, drawing the roots of their art from the purest traditions of their homeland, fights with faith and energy so that, in the evolution of the School of Paris, also Italy will be present and speak up with virile firmness.[32]

Paresce illustrated this Italian contribution to the School of Paris with three artists: Filippo de Pisis, Tozzi, and himself. All three artists were part of the so-called Italiens de Paris (Italians of Paris), who had exhibited several times in Paris and pursued a national particularism there.[33] Moreover, Tozzi and Paresce were part of the Novecento movement, which was intellectually led by Sarfatti and aimed at reconciling Italian tradition with modern art. It is therefore not surprising that Tozzi’s Mattutino (Matins, 1927) (fig. 2) was prominently exhibited and printed in the catalogue. In terms of style and subject, this depiction of piety is a reference to the art of Quattrocento, and thus a programmatic image for Tozzi’s search for the Italian roots of modern art.

Fig. 2. Mario Tozzi, Mattutino (Matins), 1927, oil on canvas, 166 x 118 cm, collection Museo del Novecento, Milan. © Archivio Mario Tozzi.

This exhibition of the School of Paris was nevertheless heavily criticized in the Italian press for its internationalism, which is why the 17th Venice Biennale in 1930 set a different focus. The following exhibition therefore sought a new way of harmonizing internationalism and national particularism. It developed the idea of a supremacy of Italian art that had its center in Rome and was competing with the School of Paris. Still, the curators integrated Italian artists living in Paris in this narrative about Italian art. This time, room 23 was curated by Tozzi together with the critic Waldemar George under the title Appels d’Italie. Among the twenty-three artists of French and other nationalities, they again displayed Italians working in Paris, such as de Pisis, Paresce, and Tozzi. In his accompanying catalogue text, however, George developed the image of Rome as a new center of art: “This is about proving a phenomenon of a shift of the center of gravity of contemporary art, which after a cure in opposition, which lasted half a century, regains its faith in Rome.”[34] This program did not contradict George’s demand, as mentioned above, to revive a École française. George found the fusion of Italian and French culture and the journey of modern artists to Rome a possibility for reinforcing the Latin, humanist tradition that corresponds to one of his basic values of French art, its néo-humanisme.[35] By restoring a “School of Rome” as he imagined it, he also hoped to strengthen art in France according to fascist ideals, and he personally presented his ideas to Mussolini on the “return to Rome” in 1933.[36] In this way, the School of Paris was transformed within a fascist ideology and given a counterpart in the Italian capital.

A phenomenon similar in its dynamics between internationalism and national particularism, albeit within a completely different ideological framework, can be seen in the context of the “School of New York.” After the Second World War, abstract expressionism became known as the “New York School” and was repeatedly described with reference to the School of Paris of the interwar period.[37] But there was already an attempt to establish a so-called School of New York in 1929, and again this happened in connection with an exhibition of the School of Paris.

In 1929 the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, showed an exhibition of modern French art of the nineteenth century. As supplement, the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art organized the Exhibition of the School of Paris from March 19 until April 12. The works came mostly from private lenders and from the Valentine Gallery in New York, which was an early promoter of the School of Paris in the United States.[38] Thus, the exhibition mirrored current market trends of Jules Pascin, Moïse Kisling, and Amedeo Modigliani—the latter two were also shown in Venice.[39] As in Venice, the organizers of the Cambridge exhibition reflected on their own national art, but this time the answer was sobering:

This present collection presents a European style, international in scope and cosmopolitan in character with its center in Paris. […] These artists are to a greater or lesser degree innovators. In this they differ from the Americans of our last exhibition [Exhibition of American Art, 1929], and as a result of their calculated originality, they are more surprising, more intellectual, and more sophisticated.[40]

The following exhibition, entitled The School of New York, was held from October 17 until November 1, 1929.[41] It was intended to be an international and more cosmopolitan counterweight to the national art of the older generation of painters, which the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art had shown in the abovementioned Exhibition of American Art. It presented artists of “the two groups of Lyrists and Realists, whose roots extend into the nineteenth century,”[42] among them George Bellows, Edward Hopper, and Rockwell Kent. These artists were to be a “solid foundation for an American School.”[43] The School of New York, however, was to provide a necessary and revitalizing impulse. As in the case of the School of Paris, this should come from outside.

Fig. 3. Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Little Joe with Cow, 1923, oil on canvas, 71.1 x 106.7 cm, collection Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Betonville, Arkansas, 2010.108. Photo: Edward C. Robinson III.

The School of New York exhibition was a synopsis of artists, “who having perhaps a diversity of origin, had acquired their growth and influence from the vicinity of New York.”[44] The Harvard Society for Contemporary art evoked New York as an active and attractive center for living art, and strongly paralleled Warnod’s rhetoric of the School of Paris. On display were, for example, Russian-born artists such as Maurice Sterne and Max Weber, who had emigrated to New York, worked in Paris, but later returned to the United States. Furthermore, the Japanese-born Yasuo Kuniyoshi exhibited one of his cow paintings, which perfectly emxbodied the cosmopolitan ideal and fusion of American and foreign culture that the curators wanted to represent. In Little Joe with Cow (fig. 3), for example, he combined a Japanese subject with American folk art and Western oil painting.[45] The question of the current local domicile was crucial for the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art. This explains why it assigned Jules Pascin to the School of Paris and not to the School of New York. The artist had spent the duration of the First World War in New York and received American citizenship, but later returned to Paris. His artist colleagues Sterne, Weber, and Kuniyoshi, in contrast, proved in the curators’ eyes the current status of New York as a migrants’ city of art.

The news of a New York School was also quickly spread in Paris. In 1930 Albert Gallatin, the founder of the Gallery of Living Art of New York University, wrote in the art magazine Formes (edited by none other than Waldemar George):

The New York School is as cosmopolitan in its make up as the School of Paris. Foreigners possessing ability as painters include the Russian Alexander Brook and Morris Kantor, the Italian Joseph Stella, the Swiss Jospeh Pollet and the Japanese Yasuo Kuniyoshi. The influx of foreign bloods is good for American art, this intermingling of various cultures.[46]

These two cases, in Venice and Cambridge, show that cosmopolitanism and nationalism are not mutually exclusive. International exhibitions of the School of Paris could be used to prove national particularisms by pointing to internationally attractive effects of competing cosmopolitan centers.

The Hub of Universal Art: The School of Paris in Recife, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro

In 1930 the two editors of Montparnasse, the Brazilian-born Vicente do Rego Monteiro and the art critic Géo-Charles, decided to organize a traveling exhibition of the School of Paris in Brazil.[47] This event presented a different point of view. The first of the three exhibitions was held from March 21 until April 2, 1930, at the Teatro Isabel in Recife, and then traveled on to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (fig. 4).[48] Works of forty-nine artists were transported to Latin America on this occasion. The artists shown here differed from the previous exhibitions, which demonstrates once again that the School of Paris was not a consistent and stable group. This time, works by Brazilian artists, who had not been represented in Venice or New York, were added. This is the case for Vicente do Rego Monteiro (fig. 5) and his brother, Joaquim. A special focus was on cubist art works by Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, and Picasso. The latter, according to Dos Anjos and Morais, was shown for the first time in Brazil.[49] This tendency toward cubism mirrored the profile of Montparnasse, whose former editor, Husson, saw cubism as a precursor to world art (art mondial) and a future cosmopolitan synthesis of humankind.[50] Another reason for this focus on cubism was that the exhibition was supported by the prominent art dealer of cubism, Léonce Rosenberg and his Galerie de l’Effort Moderne. Rego Monteiro, in turn, drew on cubism in his works and fused it with stylistic elements of the pre-Columbian Marajoara culture.[51]

Fig. 4. Exhibition of the School of Paris in São Paulo (Palacete Glória) or Rio de Janeiro (Palace-Hotel), 1930, with Géo-Charles on the left. © Archives du musée Géo-Charles – Ville d’Échirolles.

Montparnasse considered Brazil a suitable choice, not only because of its editor, Rego Monteiro. The magazine registered an esprit nouveau (new spirit) in the Brazilian cultural scene. The country experienced an economic upswing due to government-protected coffee exports, which spurred the formation of an intellectual, cosmopolitan elite. In the interwar period, many intellectuals and avant-garde artists, such as the poet Oswald de Andrade and the artist Tarsila do Amaral traveled between Brazil and Europe, especially Paris.[52] Among others, Rego Monteiro and Andrade collaborated on the art festival Semana de Arte Moderna, which took place in São Paulo in 1922 and spearheaded the modernist movement in Brazil.[53] This event gave rise to the Antropofagia movement, which sought cultural autonomy of modern art in Brazil under postcolonial conditions. It propagated the anthropophagic appropriation of the Western “other,” thus attenuating its hegemonic impact.[54]

Fig. 5. Vicente do Rego Monteiro, Femme à la Biche (Woman with Doe), 1926, oil on canvas, collection Pernambuco State Museum, MEPE/FUNDARPE. Exhibited at the School of Paris exhibition, Recife, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in 1930.

The exhibition of the School of Paris was a response to these developments. Unlike the exhibitions in Venice and New York, Rego Monteiro and Géo-Charles highlighted neither the national supremacy of French art nor the outstanding role of Brazilian art in the School of Paris. Rather, the curators wanted to present a still-developing universal art and esprit nouveau that they considered a global evolution. From this perspective, the supremacy of Paris in modern art seemed a fact, but unfixed, transferable, sharable, and expandable. It was Géo-Charles’s hope to create synergies between Montparnasse and the Brazilian avant-garde of the Semana de Arte Moderna.

The poet Menotti del Picchia, a participant of the Semana de Arte Moderna and collaborator of the Revista de Antropofagia, translated one of Géo-Charles’s texts, entitled “Uma informação do critico Géo-Charles sobre o momento esthetico mundial.”[55] It was intended as information for the “Brazilian Movement,” in order to spread the latest knowledge in the field of art. Géo-Charles stresses the internationalist and pacifist traits in Paris that would have become visible in art, especially after the First World War. But it is the collaboration between writers and artists, in particular, which, in his opinion, made Paris a special place. The critic did not leave out the opportunity to attribute a central role to his magazine, Montparnasse, as well as the art of Rego Monteiro and his paintings’ “human, ethnic and sensitive significance that a work of art should have.”[56]

In this type of exhibition, Paris was neither ruled by a French nor another national paradigm. Paris was an open city, and everyone who wanted to contribute to the development of new art could enter or be inspired by its recent developments. This second type of exhibition reveals a phenomenon that Gladys Fabre described as the Internationale de l’esprit.[57] After the First World War, a strong consciousness had developed in Europe, especially in left-wing political and pacifist circles. It strived for international cooperation and fraternization, also in the field of culture. Artistic mobility, migration, and exchange were necessary and welcomed practices that served the further development of a universal art. The ambitious goals of Rego Monteiro and Géo-Charles, however, remained unfulfilled. The exhibition did not generate a broad response in the local press, and was only discussed with little enthusiasm. Also, the disappointment of the Brazilian public with French modern art that some press articles reported contradicts Géo-Charles’s enthusiastic vision that the School of Paris was working on a universal modern art of tomorrow.[58]

Of course, this was a utopian design that reflects little of the actual barriers, like differences in citizenship or financial possibilities, that were decisive when gaining physical access to the city of Paris and its art scene. Nevertheless, the School of Paris remained an important imaginary and ideal that could be translocated and transferred to other sites of modern art. The case shows how an image of the city that represented a cosmopolitan and international center of modern art was transferred and locally adapted. While back in Paris, in the context of the magazine Montparnasse, this meant assigning a central status to the cosmopolitan art milieu of cafés and independent exhibitions, in Brazil it served to expand the imagined boundaries of the French capital. Artists could inscribe themselves in a narrative about universal modern art in Paris, regardless of their nationality and place of residence.


In the face of the transnational mobility of art critics and artists, between 1928 and 1930 the School of Paris label underwent a process of (re-)definition that was part of transregional dynamics between Paris and other sites of modern art. It always contained a universalism that confirmed Paris as the center of modern art, but this universalism could be applied variably and in different regional contexts, sometimes serving more nationalistic, sometimes more cosmopolitan ideals.

Within Parisian art criticism the label was used for art that was locally rooted in Paris, but international in scope. Thus, the use of School of Paris encompassed both the integration of immigrated artists into the French canon and the international significance of Parisian artists. Warnod used the School of Paris to integrate immigrant artists into a narrative about French art. The magazine Montparnasse, on the contrary, referred to the universal status of Paris as an internationalist and cosmopolitan center of art, to legitimize internationalist exhibition practices within the field of independent art.

The international exhibitions of the School of Paris around 1930 resulted from collaborations of actors both inside and outside Paris, especially artists (Tozzi, Paresce, and Rego Monteiro), art critics (Géo-Charles), and galleries (Galerie de l’Effort Moderne, Valentine Gallery). These exhibitions are as diverse as the itineraries of the artists and critics involved. Nevertheless, this article shows that it is worthwhile to study the various examples with a comparative perspective, since this points out the ambiguity and various functions of the School of Paris label, not just within but also outside Paris. On the one hand, the label helped counter the hegemony of modern French art when contrasting the art of other nations’ capitals with the Parisian art scene, as in the case of the School of Rome or the School of New York. On the other hand, showing the School of Paris abroad could mean to embrace the status of Paris as an art center. By acknowledging the city’s universalistic cosmopolitanism, these exhibitions helped to include contributions from other regions into a narrative on modern art. Of course, all these cases belong to ideologically different contexts. Nevertheless, the artists’ and critics’ engagement reveals the active choices and transformations that were necessarily undertaken when adapting the narrative of the School of Paris, and with it the image of Paris as the center of modern art, outside of Paris.