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Book Reviews Michèle C. Cone. A r t is t s U n d e r V ic h y : A C a s e o f P r e ju d ic e a n d P e r s e c u t io n . P rin c e ­ to n : P r in c e to n U n iv e rs ity P re s s , 1992. P p . xx iv + 264. 5 c o lo r, 63 b la c k a n d w h ite p la te s ; 26 p h o to g ra p h s , h o lo g r a p h ic d o c u m e n ts , m a p . $35.00. Michèle C. Cone’s art-historical study of French painting under the years of the Ger­ man Occupation examines its subject under two broad, simplistic headings, “ Avengers of Decadence” and “ Scapegoats of Decadence,” and proceeds under the umbrella of a familiar argument, that bad political systems inevitably produce bad art. However, Cone’s account of the work carried out both within and outside of the Vichy regime’s official propaganda mechanism reveals once again, as have the significant historical and political analyses of the period listed in her massive bibliography, that the actuality of both French official and “ resistantial” art does not fit easily into a neat organizing scheme. Cone is compelled to narrate a very different tale from the one she sets out to tell. This fascinating if uneven book, extensively researched, illustrated, and documented, full of vast quantities of striking anecdotes and episodes and studded with accidental insights presented from the back of the tapestry, leads its author to confront head-on the dense, ambiguous, always changing fabric of interaction between art and politics of which literary scholars of the period have long been aware. The Vichy period was intensely com­ plex, not at all monolithic; it was riven with holes and absences whose mystery remains intact to this day. The Vichy period was also, surprisingly, a brilliant time for the arts, a time of intense possibility often realized because o f repression and the need for resistance. In her opening chapters, Cone works from the inaccurate assumption that Vichy’s new “ official” focus on traditionalism in painting literally reversed the existing scale of values. But it was not avant-garde art that was most popular, well-supported, and widely displayed in the thirties. The art publicly honored and materially successful prior to Vichy was closer to the official Russian and German art of the pre-World War II period. Cone correctly points out that Vichy’s “ anti-decadence” stance produced a blanket of official censorship in the early years of the Occupation, but, as she herself demonstrates, that blanket did not stay firmly fixed over four years. A number of the Surrealists did flee to America; Jewish painters were excluded and some were interned and killed. But numerous apparent con­ formisms in painting soon revealed themselves to be new modes of resistance. Painting flourished in the provinces, where exiled urban artists found renewed inspiration in enforced natural settings. The art market flourished because French art, even “ decadent” art, was highly salable and Hitler encouraged toleration for profit. Hoping to promote an accessible national art, the Vichy regime revived and supported the decorative arts. Short­ ages led artists such as Fautrier and Dubuffet to significant discoveries in the “ primitive” use of unusual materials. And giants such as Picasso, Matisse, and Braque stayed in France and continued to create first-rate art, each having reached in his own way a creative com­ promise with the unwelcome German presence. Cone’s promised tale of the artists who were officialized and those who were marginal­ ized and made scapegoats unravels as it goes, revealing a nuanced vision of art struggling, retrenching, developing, of art as a living response to an unstable world. Cone extends the ongoing debate over art under totalitarianism in the twentieth century to the little explored field of painting and politics in the early forties. R im a D r e l l R e c k University...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
p. 117
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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