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Shocking Paris: Book summary and reviews of Shocking Paris by Stanley Meisler

Shocking Paris

Soutine, Chagall and the Outsiders of Montparnasse

by Stanley Meisler

Shocking Paris by Stanley Meisler X
Shocking Paris by Stanley Meisler
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Book Summary

Upon fleeing the religious persecution, political oppression, and economic hardship of Eastern Europe in the first years of the 20th century, many immigrant artists eventually settled in Paris. Some of these legendary creators include Marc Chagall, and Chaim Soutine, who honed their craft amidst the city's world-renowned museums, ubiquitous galleries, and learned teachers. Together they came to be known as "the School of Paris", a title which set them apart from their French-born, and often less talented, contemporaries. These Eastern European transplants, most of whom were Russian and Jewish, dominated the art scene of Montparnasse in the decades between World War I and the outbreak of World War II.

In Shocking Paris: Soutine, Chagall and the Outsiders of Montparnasse Stanley Meisler presents a unique and compelling narrative detailing the lives of these immigrant artists. Unlike other well-known artistic groups, the School of Paris was not united by a specific movement or type of art. No art historian can discern a defining characteristic of the school, and Meisler details why the School of Paris should be considered a phenomenon of history, unlike any other.

By focusing especially on Soutine, who was regarded as the most talented member of the School of Paris, Meisler pieces together the story of an enigmatic artist who left behind no writing about his art, himself, or anything else. Virtually nothing remains of Soutine but anecdotes from those who knew him and his paintings. In the most detailed account of Soutine's life in English, Meisler takes the reader from Soutine's arrival on the art scene, to his tragic death on the run from the Gestapo, revealing how he spurned the artistic trends of his time to create works that mirrored the intensity, drama and fierceness of his own character.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Meisler throws new light on Soutine and, more broadly, on the experiences of aspiring immigrant artists in the city that fostered their dreams." - Kirkus

"A fascinating read for anyone interested in art history or art, from the lay reader to undergraduates to art historians." - Library Journal

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Reader Reviews

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Lois J. (Wilmington, DE)

The School of Paris
I have an advantage in reading this book as I am familiar with the places in Paris that are part of this exposition of a very special time in Art History. I have seen the art from this era in the Orangerie in Paris, and in the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia, and have loved it without knowing much about the artists. What this book did for me was to add depth and a dimension to my understanding of a turbulent time in both art and history. I haven't found this anywhere else. It made a difference in how I view Mogliani (died tragically young), Soutine (an amazing painter with a chaotic personal life), and Chagall (not one of my favorites-now looking at his work again).

Mary O. (Boston, MA)

Life seen through art
A wonderful and informative history that reads like a novel.
This book spotlights Jewish artists in the "School of Paris" considered outsiders whose art portrayed their struggle to survive in a life of fear and despair during WWII German occupation. Antisemitism is clearly reflected through their art. A great read for art history and WWII buffs!

Patricia G. (Dyer, IN)

Inroduction to Chaim Soutine
Stanley Meisler brings to life a period of time between the world wars which was unique in the world of painting: the intriguing work of Jewish artists who left their eastern European homes to settle in Paris's Montparnasse. The amorphous group is called The School of Paris; some of the most important today are Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall, and Modigliani. Meisler focuses most on Soutine in part because he is a distant relative whose story in some ways mirrors his own family's history of immigration because of religious persecution. But in telling Soutine's story, he opens up a window into the art world with its passionate characters, financial arrangements, and sometimes tortuous, self-destructive life styles. Soutine himself left little of his own personal reflections for biographers except his paintings, and they range from his own interpretations on Rembrandt (his artistic hero) to wild landscapes with heavy, physical strokes of paint to portraits which were intended apparently to capture the personality rather than be flattering and marketable. Meisler also manages to provide the historical and political forces which helped to shape the painters' daily lives particularly the Nazi invasion of France and the Vichy government.

I found Meisler's book to be very readable and personal; his genuine interest in the people he writes about without judgment or arbitrary opinion allow the reader to experience the material individually, without obtrusive, stuffy guidance. The book led me to research the paintings and the places mentioned on my own which only added to the reading. I owe a thank-you to Mr. Meisler for the education.

Mary D. (Claremont, CA)

Shocking Paris by Stanley Meisler
For a " history" book, this was surprisingly easy to read, entertaining and contained a vast amount of biographical information! As a professional musician and a Jew, I am well aware of the stories of musicians, conductors and composers who fled from the Nazi occupations, but the only artist of whom I was aware is Marc Chagall. The whole period prior to WWII in Paris was extraordinary! I enjoyed learning about Soutine, although he certainly has his flaws. Admittedly, while interesting, he was not someone that I would have enjoyed knowing. Chapters on Chagall, Pascin, Faure and others were very interesting, as was the insight into the attitude of the French people regarding foreigners and artists in general, and Jews in particular. This book is a fascinating look at a part of WWII rarely discussed. And the fact that it is written in an easy-to-read, interest-keeping style makes it even better! I recommend this book highly to anyone interested in the lesser known aspects of this time period.

Sandy K. (Iowa City, IA)

Shocking Paris: Soutine, Chagall and the Outsiders of Montparnasse
A revelation to the reviewer is that the artists whose work and lives are so thoroughly examined in this book were part of the "School of Paris". I knew some of the work of Soutine, Chagall, Modigliani, and others, but the author has helped me understand their artistic and personal cohesiveness and their common challenges as often impoverished Jewish emigrants. Meisler makes us aware of chauvinistic attitudes toward artists considered outsiders and dangers they faced as foreign nationals and Jews during the World War II German occupation, telling stories of local and international efforts to save them.

I would highly recommend Shocking Paris to anyone who wishes to explore the French emigré art scene of the early twentieth century through the 1940's and to delve into the biographical details, relationships, and sometimes personal demons of the artists.

Lydia M. (Lakeview, OR)

An artist's life..
I devoted years to obtain my degree in Art History and many more hours in independent study, opening this book was like finding buried treasure.
Just to have the name Modigliano roll off your tongue evokes a sense of greatness. This book gave me the man.
You will feel the despair and fear that so many artists, mostly Jewish creative forces had to deal with. The struggle to simply survive...find food, shelter and enough money for the supplies needed to continue their passion.
This book gives a wonderful lesson in history as the Third Reich moved across Europe with the oppressed scattering in front to find a refuge. But no war or hardship could prevent these artists from creating the works that we now respect.
A must read for all who are consumed with the desire to understand history, and a true gift for art history buffs.

...13 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Stanley Meisler

Stanley Meisler, a foreign and diplomatic correspondent for the Los Angeles Times for 30 years, is the author of highly regarded histories of the UN and the Peace Corps. He has written articles about Soutine and the School of Paris for Smithsonian Magazine and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Washington, DC.

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