Magazine article The Spectator

A Quick Flick through That Colorful Old Album

Magazine article The Spectator

A Quick Flick through That Colorful Old Album

Article excerpt

THE BOHEMIANS: THE BIRTH OF MODERN ART, PARIS, 1900-1930 by Dan Franck, translated from the French by Cynthia Hope Liebow Weidenfeld, 20, pp. 430, ISBN 0297644033

Every time Tracey Emin does what's expected of her - a bit of lip, a bit of an upset, a pantomimic jiggling of the cleavage - she is being bohemian in the conventional sense, as described by Dan Franck in his epic account of life and loves among artists and writers in Paris from Belle Epoque to world slump. How notoriety arises, how legend develops, how youthful poverty degenerates, with success, into tedious affluence.

Franck, `the author of 20 books which have been published in 28 countries', has a nose for detail. He mentions Picasso's neglect of personal hygiene before the genteel Olga took him in hand; Soutine's smelliness is emphasised; and, talking of utter poverty, he describes how the young Chagall used to eat fish heads one day and fish tails the next. But what really sets him sniffing are the trails of intrigues and scandals involving some of the greatest gogetters of Modern Art. Picasso goes through his Pink Period and his Blue Period. Utrillo drinks. Alfred Jarry dies. And, glory be, is that the Georges Delarue Orchestra that I hear, can-canning its way through the opening sequences of Jules et Jim, Truffaut's romp over this same territory, with Jeanne Moreau kittenish and suicidal, the model bohemienne?

Dan Franck writes as though trying to improve the Jules et Jim voice-overs. `Montparnasse rustled with the murmurs of the poets,' he says. (I doubt if much has been lost, beyond Gallic resonances, in the translation.) He ushers us rapidly past the complexities of Cubism and pseudo-- Cubism, eager instead to tell all, as so many have done before, about Alice Prin, aka Kiki of Montparnasse, the celebrated petite horizontale whose artist-customer-- admirers included Soutine, Derain, Foujita and Man Ray. `While Kiki and Man Ray were drifting off to sleep on the first page of their love story, a young girl of about 20 was pushing open the door of her apartment on the rue Cardinet.' That `young girl' was Lucie Badoul, later that night destined to cop off with Foujita. Small world, non?

Three characters are awarded outstandingly breathless attention: Modigliani (`Everyone was there, incredulous, horrified. …

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