Les années folles

The collection of the rather retiring and enigmatic Jonas Netter is on display at the Pinacothèque de Paris until September 9, 2012. The exhibit is entitled Modigliani, Soutine et l’aventure de Montparnasse. Netter was a businessman from the Alsace region of France who became passionate about collecting art upon his arrival in the capital. He couldn’t afford the Impressionists, so he turned his attention to emerging artists and ended up as the primary financial support of several of them, including most notably, Amedeo Modigliani and Soutine.

Netter couldn’t approach the artists directly, but rather had to go through an intermediary, art dealer Léopold Zborowski. For a monthly sum that allowed the artists to live, Netter received first right of refusal on the considerable artistic output of first Modigliani, then a whole host of young artists. He bought about 40 of Modigliani’s portraits during their association and Modiglini introduced others to Zborowski, and through him, to Netter. Zborowski was of questionable moral fiber, and Netter began to insist upon dealing directly with the artists over the many years of their collaboration. He ultimately collected hundred of paintings by the artists who were active in Paris in the years following World War I.

Netter was such a low-key figure that there is only one portrait of him in the collection, and even then it took professional authentication to actually link it to the patron of so many artists. His first name may or may not have been Jonas, as there are records for him under more than one variation on this name. It seems that the only remarkable thing about him was his vast collection of art.

I learned a new phrase as I went through the exhibit: les années folles (layzanay fol), which means “the crazy years.” This is the French equivalent of what Anglophones refer to as the Jazz Age, when Paris was full-to-bursting with artists, writers, and musicians of all nationalities and all styles. I’m no art expert, but it seemed to me that the horrors of World War I had left their mark on the artists who were displayed in this exhibit, with the paintings of blank eyes and twisted faces. It was disquieting, rather than beautiful, although some of the paintings were simply arresting.


About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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2 Responses to Les années folles

  1. Cliff Gilbert says:

    I love the poster for the exhibition. If that’s any indication of what was inside it must have been worthwhile seeing.

  2. Pingback: Une Tache aveugle | One quality, the finest.

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