Theatres of Melancholy: The Neo-Romantics in Paris and Beyond

Thames & Hudson. Apr. 2022. 256p. ISBN 9780500094075. $65. FINE ARTS
Paris-based fashion and design writer Mauriès (The World According to Karl; Androgyne) examines a group of 1920s figurative painters whom art critic Waldemar George called the “Neo-Romantics.” They exhibited for the first time in February 1926 at Paris’s Galerie Druet: French artists Christian Bérard and Thérèse Debains; Russian artists Pavel Tchelitchew and Eugene and Leonid Berman; and Dutch artist Kristians Tonny. The Neo-Romantics adhered to no unified artistic credo or philosophy but were notable for rejecting modernist abstraction; instead, they painted figures and landscapes in a realistic style, deploying soft muted light, experimental paints that incorporated coffee grounds or sand for thick grainy brushstrokes, and old visual devices like trompe l’oeil. Bérard and Eugene Berman were also designers (theater, fashion, decorative arts). Although the Neo-Romantics eschewed the abstraction that dominated avant-garde salons and galleries, they socialized with and were supported by a number of leading American and European proponents of modernism (Jean Cocteau, Lincoln Kirstein, Edith Sitwell, Gertrude Stein). Mauriès examines the impact of this group—perhaps the first postmodern artists.
VERDICT Recommended for readers interested in the cultural climate of the 20th century and artists outside the mainstream.
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