cover image In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse, and the Birth of Modernist Art

In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse, and the Birth of Modernist Art

Sue Roe. Penguin Press, $29.95 (365p) ISBN 978-1-59420-495-1

Montmartre, the hillside district of northern Paris, lay at the heart of an emerging modernism at the turn of the 20th century, as aptly depicted in this new book by Roe (The Private Lives of the Impressionists). Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, André Derain, Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust, and other famous modernists lived, worked, and congregated within its neighborhood cafes, bars, and studios. Roe painstakingly depicts Montmartre’s cultural and political history as well as the “distinctive melancholy” and beauty of its windmills, vineyards that “covered the steep slopes,” and artists painting at easels along the dirt roads, as well as the crumbling buildings and dilapidated shacks that housed both the poor laborers and artists looking for cheap rents. Although the book primarily revolves around Picasso’s life and work, it involves much more than painting, including the pioneering creations of fashion designer Paul Poiret and the frenzied arrival of modern dance with the Ballets Russes. Roe also provides insights into new methods of experimentation in artistic expression, including the emergence of Futurism. Roe’s accessible prose creates intimate portraits of an array of characters, but this is above all a vibrant illustration of a specific place in time. Agent: Gill Coleridge, Rogers, Coleridge & White (U.K.). (May)