It is often asked
how the various historical avant-gardes were able to persist in
their avant-gardism when support from the art market was denied
them out of hand. By avant-garde, we mean a position
of rupture within the artistic field. How did they, even more
astonishingly, succeed in gaining recognition? A comparative study
of the confrontation between these avant-gardes and their publics
on the international level offers, after many other studies, some
answers to these questions.
From the Realism
of the 1850s to the virulent varieties of futurism [avenirisme]
in the 1910s, artistic innovation was made possible by avant-garde
painting’s physical as well as symbolic detour abroad. This
detour allowed artists to remain avant-garde within the Parisian
field while at the same time exporting a more saleable kind of
painting. On the symbolic level, especially, the proverb that
“A prophet is not without honor save in his own country”
was able to provide a basis for the legitimacy of avant-garde
claims about the internationalization of their careers, stirring
European elites’ national guilty consciences.(1)
was rendered possible by the large range of cultural divisions
among various countries: not only did one not know in one country
what was being exhibited in another one, but also art was not
looked upon in the same way from country to country, public expectations
as well as the roles assigned to art not being the same. One could
therefore work to adapt avant-garde exhibitions abroad. From the
Realist period onward, the artists themselves, then increasingly
their dealer friends, critics, and collectors, took charge of
this vast movement of cultural transfer, but at the risk of making
The Realistic Realist Heritage: Differentiating One’s Production
From Realism to
Impressionism, the various avant-gardes did not hesitate to alter
their production according to their different markets: avant-gardist
for France, more commonplace abroad. As early as the 1850s, Courbet
wished to sell his huge paintings of stags in England and Germany,
explaining to Champfleury in 1860, “This is a place for
big hunts, Germany; it is a place of great nobles or little ones,
who are there to spend money.”(2) Where had Realism’s
social and political advocacy gone?
was implemented in a systematic way within the network of the
Naturalists. Determined since 1858 to find some outlets in England
while remaining avant-garde within the Parisian field, Whistler,
Fantin-Latour, and Alphonse Legros based their strategy on a specific
type of production for London collectors. Fantin-Latour began
by making copies of canvases of the old masters for these collectors
and then launched into the production of still lifes and portraits
whose existence he did not wish to make known in Paris. These
three undervalued kinds of artistic activity made him feel ashamed,
as his letters reveal. Nevertheless, they enabled the artist to
earn a living. As if to exorcize this compromise, Fantin-Latour
attacked academicism all the more in painting-manifestos he sent
to the Paris Salon, such as L'Hommage à Delacroix (Homage
to Delacroix) in 1864.
presupposed a national conception of tastes and styles that in
fact permeated the minds of avant-garde artists as much as those
of their contemporaries. Well established in the Realist tradition
and a member of the Impressionist group, Camille Pissarro had
always hoped to sell abroad. Around 1883, he decided to create,
for the English market, some etchings whose picturesque quality
might make one forget his “coarseness,” and therefore
might interest an English public that was “sophisticated”
and yet in search of some of the sensations of rural life.
Fortified by these
reflections on national tastes, some modern-art dealers themselves
changed what their artists’ production for foreign markets--be
it only by exhibiting them alongside well-recognized canvases.
Durand-Ruel did this systematically in his London exhibitions
after 1870, then in New York after 1886. Relying on artists, collectors,
and brokers who were willing to help him with his export business,
he followed a strategy that mixed Impressionist canvases with
other, well-recognized ones, especially those of the School of
1830, thereby offering a calmed-down interpretation of Impressionism’s
Post-Impressionism Translated for Foreign Countries, To the Point
A kind of modern
painting that had inherited a great deal from Impressionism began
to gain recognition in Paris and then internationally after 1889-1890.
Starting at that time, networks of European critics, dealers,
and collectors interested in modern art were established. Leaning
on this structure, the Post-Impressionists (Neo-Impressionists,
Symbolists, and Nabis) were able to forge alliances with various
avant-gardes abroad. To this end, they had to modify appreciably
their aesthetic messages. Between Paris and Brussels, Signac changed
the titles of his paintings: the musical names for the titles
he chose for the Salon of the XX in Brussels in 1892 adapted his
painting to the expectations of Belgian modernists keen on new
music, whereas two months later, for Paris’s Salon of Independents,
Signac renamed his canvases, setting them within the French landscape
The cultural transfer
of Post-Impressionism took place on a large scale when, about
1900, some middlemen came forth with the intention of introducing
it abroad. In Germany, under the leadership of Count Kessler and
of the critic and art dealer Julius Meier-Graefe, the Pointillists
and the Nabis, who did not like each other, were presented as
the united brothers of Impressionism, which they in fact fiercely
rejected. The interpretation of this catchall “Neo-Impressionism”
as the culmination of the evolution of painting toward material
reality wiped away the scientific and political import of Pointillism
as well as the religious orientation of Nabism. At the risk of
mistranslation, the canvases of Maurice Denis enjoyed success
in Germany within atheistic and Nietzschean circles for whom art
was a new religion, whereas for Denis, art was to be put in the
service of Christ. The disparity was just as striking between
the “revolutionaries in pumps”(4) who welcomed Pointillist
paintings of Signac in Germany at the turn of the century and
the latter’s social-anarchist choices.
The New Strategies of the Avant-Garde in the Face of the
Internationalization of Art
After 1905, the
internationalization of the modern-art market and the increasing
intervention of the press in artistic debates made it trickier
to differentiate artistic discourses from one nation to another.
Exportation of Parisian avant-garde art was taken over by art
professionals who took care to preserve the indispensable information
gap between countries, conscious as they were of its importance
in building up artists’ reputations. In particular, the
dealer Ambroise Vollard gambled on his artists’ presence
in foreign markets in order to raise their real as well as symbolic
It thus became
indispensable to win acceptance for the avant-garde abroad, and
various strategies were adopted toward this end, toning down being
the most widespread tactic. The works of Matisse exhibited abroad
after 1905 are, for example, tamer in style than that found in
his Parisian exhibitions, which witnessed the triumph of Fauvism.
Toward Belgium and Germany, the Fauve, who soon gained support
from Félix Fénéon and the Bernheim-Jeune
Gallery, exported softly-colored still lives, not his green-nosed
portraits. In America, it was not the painter of color who was
exported but, rather, the excellent artist of black-and-white
drawings. After 1910, more Fauve-like canvases were exported,
but they were now being interpreted in a decorative and soothing
vein--as at the Grafton Galleries in 1912, under the leadership
of Roger Fry.
After 1910, the
development of international artistic polemics, the internationalization
of the avant-gardes and of their reviews, and the appearance of
major international arts fairs prompted the use of some more subtle
strategies. Some, like Robert Delaunay or Marc Chagall, again
chose to exhibit works whose orientations varied from country
to country, sometimes touching up their canvases, changing titles,
and even, as Delaunay did with the help of Apollinaire, commenting
on their works in different ways for Berlin, Moscow, and New York.
In 1913-1914, Delaunay exhibited in France some of his still representational
works, which celebrated the influence of Paris as world capital
of modern art, whereas he sent along abstract works and cosmopolitan
messages to Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin.
The Parisian dealer
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who was less beholden to the prevailing
nationalism, implemented a radically new strategy: that of absence
from Paris, complemented by retrospectives abroad. Picasso’s
paintings, for example, could be seen only at his dealer’s
gallery, among a few collectors, or abroad. Not only did the painter
gain a reputation for having an international career, and therefore
a legitimacy abroad, but his absence from the Parisian field once
again created the ideal dearth of information to support the idea
that his works were in short supply and to maintain the myth of
an artist rejected in Paris but prized elsewhere. Abroad, Picasso’s
painting was presented in a retrospective way: always exhibiting
pre-Cubist works among those shown, the point was to prove in
visual terms that the artist was a good illustrator and that he
had come to Cubism through a gradual intellectual evolution. Cubism
became the culmination of a basic philosophical reflection on
pictorial creation itself. This extremely convincing demonstration
made through the use of images still permeates our history of
Thus, the various
avant-gardes did not achieve their dominance on account of their
genius alone. Rather, they knew how to invent their place within
society and in the art of their time, through strategies involving
creation of works, exhibition of them, and discourses thereupon.
This conclusion prompts one not to grant too quickly, to the aesthetic
theories of artists and to their works, a homogeneity that they
did not have either in time or in space. It also suggests that
one should see, at the sources of modern art’s development,
a constant manipulation on the national and international levels
that undermines any approach to the history of art in terms of
national as well as international art. Does this conclusion endanger
the aura of the various avant-gardes? Yes, if their originality
is limited to that of an authenticity they did not always possess.
But no, if it prompts one to inquire in a new way about the originality
and intelligence of the actors who knew how to gamble on their
publics and to undo their era’s cultural, artistic, and
political rules of the game.
Joyeux-Prunel, “Nul n’est prophète en son
pays” ou la logique avant-gardiste: l’internationalisation
de la peinture des avant-gardes parisiennes, 1855-1914 (History
thesis supervised by Christophe Charle), University of Paris-I
2. Letter to Champfleury, Ornans, October 1860,
in Correspondance de Courbet (Paris: Flammarion, 1996),
3. See Françoise Cachin, “Le paysage
du peintre,” in Pierre Nora, ed., Les Lieux de Mémoire,
tome 2, La Nation (Paris: Gallimard, 1997), vol. 1, “L’Immatériel--Paysages,”
4. “Diese Kunst träumt von Revolution
und Umwertung aller Werte und geht en escarpins einher”
(Karl Scheffler, Henry van de Velde [Leipzig: Insel-Verlag,
1913], pp. 45-46).
Assouline, Pierre. L’homme
de l’art. D. H. Kahnweiler 1884-1979. Paris: Balland,
1988. Reprint. Paris: Folio 1999. 732pp.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Les Règles de l’art.
Genèse et structure du champ littéraire. Paris:
Seuil, 1992. 2nd ed., revised and corrected, 1998. 567pp.
Charle, Christophe. Paris fin de siècle.
Paris: Seuil, 1998. 320pp.
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler--marchand, écrivain, éditeur.
Exhibition catalogue. Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée
national d’art moderne, 1984. 197pp.
Espagne, Michel. Les Transferts culturels
franco-allemands. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France,
n'est prophète en son pays” ou la logique avant-gardiste:
L'internationalisation de la peinture des avant-gardes parisiennes
1855-1914. Doctoral Thesis supervised by Christophe Charle.
Paris: University of Paris-I (Sorbonne), 2005. 950pp.
Huth, Hans. “Impressionism comes to America.”
Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 6:29 (April 1946): 225-254.
Jensen, Robert. Marketing Modernism in Fin-de-siècle
Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996 (1994).
Kostka, Alexandre. “Der Dilettant und sein
Künstler: die Beziehungen Harry Graf Kessler-Henry van de
Velde.” In Klaus-Jürgen Sambach and Birgit Schutte,
ed. Henry van de Velde. Ein Europäischer Künstler
in seiner Zeit. Cologne: Wienand Verlag, 1992, pp. 253-273.
White, Harrison C. and Cynthia White. La
Carrière des peintres au XIXe siècle: du système
académique au marché des impressionnistes.
Paris: Flammarion, 1991 (Canvases and Careers, 1965). 167pp.
1 Gustave Courbet, Stag Taking to the Water, 1861,
Marseilles, Museum of Fine Arts.
2 Henri Fantin-Latour, Still Life with Flowers and Fruit,
1862, Paris, Orsay Museum.
3 Henri Fantin-Latour, Still Life with Flowers and Fruit,
1866, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
4 Camille Pissarro, The Pork Butcher, 1883, London,
5 Paul Signac, Concarneau, 1891, New York, Metropolitan
Museum of Art.
6 Weimar, Cranachstrasse 15. The main livingroom. Photo from
1902 (?). Between two windows with white frames, Les Nymphes
aux Jacinthes by Maurice Denis. Furniture by Van de Velde;
on the pedestal, at right, a Greek head (Henry van de Velde,
Ein europäischer Künstler seiner Zeit, exhibition
catalogue [Cologne: Wienand Verlag, 1992], p. 259).
7 Kessler’s office. Above the sofa, an Entombment by
Maurice Denis (signed and dated, 1903), photograph from 1909
(ibid., p. 256).
8 The Matisse room at the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition,
at the Grafton Galleries, attributed to Roger Fry (1866-1934),
sometimes to Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), Paris, Orsay Museum.