Picasso’s War | Hugh Eakin

Summary of: Picasso’s War: How Modern Art Came to America
By: Hugh Eakin


Dive into the fascinating journey of how modern art arrived in America through the lens of Hugh Eakin’s ‘Picasso’s War’. This gripping book uncovers the tale of passionate art collector John Quinn, who championed the cause of modern art in a time when it was vastly under-appreciated. Discover the pivotal role of Quinn in dismantling barriers to modern art appreciation and the tireless efforts of the Museum of Modern Art in finally securing Picasso a place in the American art scene. Picasso’s works, alongside those of other modern artists, would eventually transform the world of art and reshape the perspectives of future generations.

America’s First Encounter with Picasso’s Cubism

In 1911, John Quinn, a successful lawyer and cultural conduit, saw Pablo Picasso’s Standing Female Nude at the first-ever Picasso exhibition in the US, hosted at a 15-square-foot loft gallery in New York City known as 291. Quinn was flummoxed by the sharp angles and disorienting changes in perspective of Picasso’s cubist phase, which were pioneering at the time. Nonetheless, Quinn recognized that Picasso was doing something remarkable and was deeply impressed with what he saw. This encounter marked America’s first encounter with Picasso’s cubism, challenging the classical art norms that dominated the country at that time.

John Quinn and His Passion for Modern Art

John Quinn, a lawyer, became a collector of modern art that led him to help organize the landmark event of the Armory Show in 1913. Although the show was initially met with hostility and laughter, Quinn’s aim was to kick-start the overseas market for modern art and to end the prohibitive import taxes on foreign art. As a respected lawyer, he successfully lobbied the government to put an end to the law, which revolutionized both the American and European art scenes.

Picasso and his Artistic Dealers

In the early 1900s, art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler stumbled upon a squalid studio in Paris. It belonged to Pablo Picasso, who was just starting out. Kahnweiler agreed to represent Picasso and other modern artists such as Georges Braque, André Derain, Juan Gris, and Maurice de Vlaminck. Sergei Shchukin, a Russian textile baron, was an early collector of Kahnweiler’s artists. With their help, Picasso became a household name. However, competition was brewing with art dealer Paul Rosenberg, who was more outgoing. The First World War broke out in 1914 and Kahnweiler’s assets were frozen. His art collection was confiscated and put up for auction, with Rosenberg’s brother conducting the auction. Picasso turned to Rosenberg, damaging his friendship with Kahnweiler.

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