cover image PAINTING AMERICAN: The Rise of American Artists: Paris 1867–New York 1948

PAINTING AMERICAN: The Rise of American Artists: Paris 1867–New York 1948

Annie Cohen-Solal, . . Knopf, $30 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45093-1

French intellectual Cohen-Solal made a splash with a life of Jean-Paul Sartre over a dozen years ago, followed by high-profile cultural diplomat jobs, including a stint as cultural counselor at the French Embassy in the U.S. from 1989 to 1993. This heavily written, thoroughly researched look at how New York usurped Paris's position as trendy art capital over 100 years should attract attention among cognoscenti, though it fails to make this very worn story new. In episodic chapters, Cohen-Solal renders Paris's former art world glory. She is strongest on such familiar American subjects as Thomas Eakins, the Ashcan School and Jackson Pollock, and favors artists with gloomy, French existential–style philosophies, like Taos-based Agnes Martin, who broods, "For twenty years I destroyed all my work.... I am for a complete control of emotions, that's how you get happiness." Originally published by Gallimard in France last year, the translation here by various hands (with 20 accompanying color reproductions) is fairly consistent, even if occasional bloopers occur, e.g., people "disappear" when presumably the author meant that they died. This is certainly an erudite if unoriginal account of artistic modernism, and a safe bet for generalists and nonacademic libraries, but art lovers may be baffled by the book's absence of a distinctive art historical flavor. (Oct. 16)