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Picasso's War by Hugh Eakin

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Publication date: July 12, 2022

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Picasso's War

How Modern Art Came to America


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

In January 1939, Picasso was renowned in Europe, but little appreciated in the United States. One year later, the unconventional Spaniard had become the poster child of modern art in America and the inspiration for an entire generation of painters. How did this difficult Parisian avant-gardiste break through to the heart of American culture?
The answer begins in 1913, when a renegade Irish American lawyer named John Quinn set out to make New York the world’s modern art capital by building 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 wunderkind art historian who became the director of the new Museum of Modern Art at the age of twenty-seven.
The goal Barr shared with Quinn, of bringing Picasso’s work to the United States and changing the way people thought about art, would be thwarted in the decades to come—by popular hostility, by the Depression, by scheming art dealers, and by Picasso himself. It would take Hitler’s campaign against modern art, and Barr’s fraught partnership with Paul Rosenberg, Picasso's dealer and a French aesthete escaping Europe’s anti-Semitism, to get Picasso’s 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.
In Picasso's War, Hugh Eakin relates this never-before-told story about how one exhibition irrevocably changed American taste, and in doing so ultimately saved hundreds of priceless pieces of art from the Nazis. A tale of courageous dreamers, devious socialites, and temperamental artists, Picasso's War ranges from the mansions of Fifth Avenue to the hidden storerooms of Nazi Germany. With half a decade of research, Eakin acquired access to hundreds of letters and documents, many of which have never been publicly seen. Through a deft combination of scholarship and storytelling, Eakin shows how a few visionaries’ obsession with Picasso made the man an icon and changed the art world forever.

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