VERANDA’s August Sip & Read Book Club pick is ‘Picasso’s War’

you are welcome in VERANDA Sip & Read Book Club! Each month, we delve into a new book and offer exclusive conversations with the author, along with a perfectly matched cocktail. This month’s pick is Hugh Eakin Picasso’s War: How Modern Art Reached America. The non-fiction The work follows a New York lawyer and a passionate, enthusiastic principal as they struggle to change America’s perception of modern art. Find out about previous book club picks here.

It’s 1939 New York at the height of Picasso’s mania. People flock to the Museum of Modern Art to see the historical show, “Picasso: Forty Years of His Art” in which the entire city speaks. Department stores across Manhattan are creating merchandise themed with the artist’s famous works so everyone can have their own Picasso piece. With such fanfare, it’s hard to believe that people were turning their noses up at the idea of ​​Art Nouveau just a year ago. In his latest work of non-fiction, Hugh Aiken explains the evolution of modern art in America from an obnoxious art style to a more coveted one. Below, Eakin talks about two pivotal figures in the Art Nouveau movement that inspired his work and his particular love for Picasso.

Picasso’s War: How Modern Art Came to America

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While this is a work of non-fiction, reading prose is very similar to a novel. What was the inspiration for this book?

I’m so flattered you called me Picasso’s war a novel! By choosing to write the full-fledged non-fiction story for a small group of dynamic characters because it gave shape to one of the greatest cultural shifts of the 20th century, I was fortunate to find a story with all the tension and drama of a great work of fiction. The story was inspired by many things: one was a visit to a private archive that contained hundreds of almost unknown letters between Picasso and his dealer during the crucial years when he gained his international reputation; The latest discovery was that some of the greatest works of modern art survived destruction or seizure by the Nazis only because – at the last possible moment – they were shipped to the United States. This led me on an epic journey through over a dozen archives in the US and Europe, where I was able to piece together how it all came together.

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What was the research format for this book? How did you make sure that the piece remained historically accurate?

While I wanted the story to feel as vivid and exciting as possible, as a non-fiction writer, I had to base every scene, dinner party, quote, and detail strictly on the source material I was able to uncover. Fortunately, my characters did not leave behind many diaries, letters, and documents; In them, they often recorded what they were doing, thinking, and saying during crucial moments. Many of my characters have also used telegrams as we use text messages today: I can reconstruct what happened day in and day out — sometimes hour by hour — during the course of a particularly important turning point.

In your own words, why was America reluctant to accept modern art?

From today’s point of view, it sounds astonishing: for most of the first half of the twentieth century, Americans were fiercely resistant to Picasso, Matisse, and the entire leading generation of European artists who built the art world we know today. why? There were many reasons. One was cultural insecurity. The United States for the first time became a world power, and wanted to build all these prestigious museums of expensive historical art from Europe because that is what brought the greatest prestige and prestige. Art Nouveau, although it also came from Europe, was so new and different that it was highly controversial, and therefore had little market value and was widely avoided. There was also a real fear that contemporary artists were subversive, and that movements like Cubism and Fauvism would undermine the moral fabric of American society: people protested, and even The New York Times Editorial books against modern art.

while he called Picasso’s war, Pablo Picasso and other well-known contemporary artists serve as background characters in this book. Why did you choose to focus the narrative on the art collector and gallery maker?

I was fascinated to discover two characters who were so close to the world’s most famous artist, during the years his American reputation was made, yet virtually unknown. So, there was a completely new and unexpected story to tell. Picasso did not spontaneously become a legend in the United States; It took decades of effort, and years of failure, by this small group of fanatical supporters, pushing against the cultural tide, and it almost never happened.

After the Picasso and MoMA exhibitions, modern art was a huge success in America. Can you explain how those exhibitions changed America’s perception of modern art?

This is the story the book seeks to tell. Without abandoning the plot, Picasso’s eventual victory in the United States was never guaranteed. It was to an extraordinary degree, the result of the right people in the right place at the right time, but also the result of the serendipitous effect of massive global events – which almost derailed the entire project. Even Hitler had an unintended role in this.

For someone who wants to learn more about modern art, where would you recommend starting?

Picasso is an excellent place to start, not only because he was one of the leaders of the massive upheavals at the beginning of the 20th century that more or less rebuilt the foundations of art. He has also constantly reinvented his own style and approach, so he has contributed not just to one movement but to many of the major movements that shaped modern art, from Cubism to Neoclassicism, to Surrealism to sculpture, and even political art. He knew and influenced many other prominent artists. And he has lived such a long and eventful life – he was painting in the 1900s when the century began and he was painting in 1973, the year he died – that you can trace much of the story of modern art and the story of the twentieth century, in his work.

What is your favorite piece of modern art?

This is a difficult question! There are many paintings that I admire for various reasons. I think for sheer power, mystery, and weirdness, Henry Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy is unlike any other work I know of. As one of my characters in the book said when he first saw it, it hits you with a “thunderbolt of love.” It has been beautifully restored and you can see it at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


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