A gripping history of how NYC became the capital of the art world. Structured around the lives of John Quinn an early 20th century art collector who amassed a premiere collection of modernist art and Alfred H. Barr the director of MOMA, Picasso’s War charts how the country transformed from a provincial cultural backwater at the beginning of the 20th century with the ridicule heaped upon the avant garde 1913 Armory Show to the blockbuster triumph of MOMA’s 1939 Picasso show which toured around the country to hundreds of thousands of visitors. Along the way we find terrific portraits of Picasso and just how difficult he was to work with, his dealers Kahnweiler and Rosenberg, a history of modernism and the avant garde against the background of the first half of the 20th century and the effects of two world wars on the art world. It is the story not so much of how modern art was made, but how it triumphed in practice. Fascinating and lucidly written. — Dafydd Wood
A riveting story of how dueling ambitions and the power of prodigy made America the cultural center of the world—and Picasso the most famous artist alive—in the shadow of World War II
“[Eakin] has mastered this material. . . . The book soars.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker
In January 1939, Pablo Picasso was renowned in Europe but disdained by many in the United States. One year later, Americans across the country were clamoring to see his art. How did the controversial leader of the Paris avant-garde break through to the heart of American culture?
The answer begins a generation earlier, when a renegade Irish American lawyer named John Quinn set out to build the greatest collection of Picassos in existence. His dream of a museum to house them died with him, until it was rediscovered by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., a cultural visionary who, at the age of twenty-seven, became the director of New York’s new Museum of Modern Art.
Barr and Quinn’s shared goal would be thwarted in the years to come—by popular hostility, by the Depression, by Parisian intrigues, and by Picasso himself. It would take Hitler’s campaign against Jews and modern art, and Barr’s fraught alliance with Paul Rosenberg, Picasso’s persecuted dealer, to get Picasso’s most important paintings out of Europe. Mounted in the shadow of war, the groundbreaking exhibition Picasso: Forty Years of His Art would launch Picasso in America, define MoMA as we know it, and shift the focus of the art world from Paris to New York.
Picasso’s War is the never-before-told story about how a single exhibition, a decade in the making, irrevocably changed American taste, and in doing so saved dozens of the twentieth century’s most enduring artworks from the Nazis. Through a deft combination of new scholarship and vivid storytelling, Hugh Eakin shows how two men and their obsession with Picasso changed the art world forever.
About the Author
Hugh Eakin, a senior editor at Foreign Affairs, has written about museums and the art world for The New York Review of Books,Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and The New York Times.
“[Eakin] has mastered this material, read a mountain of sources and synthesized them skillfully, and he manages to braid aesthetics with history with personal details. . . . The book soars. His achievement is keeping the complex plotline moving, while offering sharp insights and astute judgments.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
“Admirable and enjoyable . . .The story in Picasso’s War is well told, with an impressive level of biographical detail.”—Louis Menand, The New Yorker
“Rollicking and fascinating . . . The path to recognizing and canonizing great art is messy. Eakin documents this fact in fantastic fashion.”—Foreign Policy
“This is an exciting story about a king gaining his crown. Hugh Eakin writes with natural authority but also with a novelist’s eye, ‘making it new’ with telling detail, deft portraits, and dramatic scenes.”—Mark Stevens, Pulitzer Prize–winning co-author of De Kooning
“Eakin is a marvelous writer. Fascinating, eloquent, wonderfully lucid, Picasso’s War will change whatever we thought we knew about modern art and its complicated reception on this side of the Atlantic.”—Francine Prose, author of The Vixen
“There will always be more to say about Picasso. Eakin’s book throws new light on the prolonged and often fierce opposition to his work—and to modern art—in the United States. Eakin focuses on the tiny group of supporters, each of whom comes vividly to life on the page, who fought and eventually routed the anti-modernists.”—Calvin Tomkins, author of Duchamp
“Eakin tells an intriguing and gripping story with clarity and finely judged pace. His portraits of the main players are astute and fascinating, as is his picture of a changing America.”—Colm Tóibín, author of The Magician
“At once a compulsive, vivid history about America’s mercurial culture and an incisive meditation on art, ambition, power, and the spoils of war, this is an important, groundbreaking book.”—Abbott Kahler, author of The Ghosts of Eden Park (as Karen Abbott)
“A dramatic narrative and a brilliant, timely corrective of the history of Picasso’s reception in America, Eakin’s roller-coaster ride through twentieth-century art reminds us that Picasso’s triumph was very far from inevitable.”—Gijs van Hensbergen, author of Guernica
“[Hugh Eakin] showcases his journalist’s eye for detail with this fascinating look at a pivotal moment in modern American art history. . . . Through lush prose and vigorous research, Eakin draws readers into the long evolution of the exhibition, vividly profiling the people who made it happen. . . . Chock full of suspense and brilliantly rendered, this will have art connoisseurs transfixed.”—Publishers Weekly