School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    The identity of the École de Paris in painting and criticism, 1939-1964
    Adamson, Natalie Ann ( 2002)
    The Identity of the École de Paris in Painting and Criticism, 1939-1964 reconstructs and analyses the history of the group of painters presented in exhibitions and discussed in the contemporary press as the "École de Paris". The Ecole de Paris was a "phantom" school which had neither enrolled students nor official teachers. This dissertation examines the manner in which this phantom school was discursively produced. Through a close analysis of the art criticism which sought to establish and define the identity of the school, the dissertation shows that the École de Paris dominated the production and reception of painting in postwar France. Such a project had powerful historical and ideological motivations. The dissertation establishes that the resuscitation of the École de Paris upon the Liberation of the city in 1944 was driven by the urge to reconstruct a harmonious artistic community and a powerful national tradition in the wake of the war. Indeed, the École de Paris became the most important site for the debates over the validity of foreign contributions to the national tradition of painting, the resurgence of the avant-garde, the role of abstract painting in comparison to traditional realism, and the imbrication of Cold War politics with culture. It was a complex and contradictory discourse involving art critics, painters, curators, and art dealers, each of whom fought to establish a different version of the École de Paris. Charting the critical arguments and the mutations of painting style which constitute the Ecole de Paris reveals that the school performed a dual role: it was both the motor for a new avant-garde in the form of lyrical abstraction, and a reactionary force, fighting for figuration as the foundation of an unchanging national tradition. The dissertation establishes that the style known as non-figuration became the preferred strategy or mediation in Ecole de Paris painting. Non-figuration sought to reconcile the extremes of modernity and tradition, abstraction and realism. The prevailing opinion has been highly critical of the Ecole de Paris for its repetition or pre-war avant-garde innovations and a "middle-of-the-road" ideology. However, the Ecole de Paris is most constructively understood as a zone of conflict, which catalysed the passionate dissection of the most difficult artistic and political issues or the period. The dissertation traces the history of the postwar Ecole de Paris from its Liberation rebirth until the early 1960s, by which time reconciliation was no longer an option and the primacy of painting was being challenged. The hegemony of Ecole de Paris painting came to an end as the tensions between the emphasis on individual originality and the conservative desire to reconstitute a collectivity, fragmented the Ecole de Paris beyond repair. This dissertation finds that the conflicts which swirled around the paintings, artists and critical writing of the Ecole de Paris provide exemplary representations of the crisis between nationalism and cosmopolitanism in French postwar history.