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A Fabulous Non-Fiction Book Set in Paris called: Shock­ing Paris by Stanely Meisler

The Fascinating Story of the Jewish Painters in the Paris Post-Impressionism Era

Shocking Paris: Sou­tine, Cha­gall and the Out­siders of Montparnasse by Stan­ley Meisler is a fabulous book set in Paris. It focuses on several Jewish artists who lived and worked in the Montparnasse district of Paris in the first half of the 20th century. The book spans the turbulent period from the 1920s until the years leading up to the World War Two.

Many of these immigrant artists came to Paris fleeing Jewish persecution from Eastern European countries. They came from Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus & other Eastern block countries.

Isis Kischka - One of the Immigrant Jewish Painters belonging to the "School of Paris"
Isis Kischka – an Immigrant Painter belonging to the “School of Paris”

The Immigrant artists – Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso & others!

The main focus of the book is the Jewish painter, Chaim Soutine. For him and the other immigrant artists, Paris represented a life without religious persecution. Living in the French capital gave them freedom to explore art without limitations. It was an exciting, vibrant and extremely creative period to be an artist in Paris. Sadly, none of these Jewish painters could imagine what horror was unfolding for all the Jews of Europe, and in Paris, in the coming years.

Read about Sountine in the wonderful book set in Paris by Stanley Meisler
Chaim Soutine Painting

La Ruche, Montparnasse – The Vibrant Epicenter of Artistic Creativity

Meisler portrays the fascinating art scene of the immigrant artists. Many of them lived and worked in an old & dilapidated building called La Ruche (“the Bee­hive”) in Montparnasse. Rent in La Ruche was dirt cheap & affordable for these impoverished artists.

At different times during these years, many artists such as Marc Chagall, Guillaume Apollinaire, Fernand Leger, Jacques Lipchitz, Max Jacob, Amedeo Modigliani & many others lived and/or worked at La Ruche.

By the 1920s, Montparnasse was  now the Paris epicenter of the avant-garde.  It was buzzing with artistic creativity.

Read about Amedeo Modigliani in the great book set in Paris by Stanley Meisler
Amedeo Modigliani – a Jewish Painter & Sculptor who immigrated to Paris

Jewish Immigrant Painters & the “School of Paris”

These immigrant artists, including Pablo Picasso, formed the “School of Paris“. This “school” had no common style nor produced any art-related manifestos. They were predominantly Jewish artists, but not only. These artists banded together, shared art studios and discussed new artistic ideas. They experimented with revolutionary concepts such as Pointillism, Fauvism and Cubism.

Ossip Zadkine - active in the School of Paris
Ossip Zadkine Cubism Painting

The Montparnasse Jewish Art Scene was named “The Filth of Paris”

Stanley Meisler points out that by the late 1920s, antisemitism was on the rise in Paris. Some French art critics began openly criticizing these Jewish immigrant artists, declaring that they were taking over and leaving no place for the true French-born artists. A French editor of Le Figaro, Camille Mau­clair, even called them ​“the filth of Paris”.

Marc Chagall Painting of Paris Through the Window
Marc Chagall Painting of Paris Through the Window

The end of an artistic era with the invasion of Nazism into France

All this and the looming threat of Hitler and Fascism became a constant concern for the Jewish immigrant painters. When the Nazis invaded France, these Jewish artists were no longer safe. They all lived in constant fear of their lives and hid from the French police and the German Gestapo.

If you want to find out what happened to many of them, read Stanley Meisler’s book Shocking Paris. Some 20 Jewish artists from the “School of Paris” died in death camps. Others, including Marc Chagall, managed to flee to safer places. No spoilers here!!

Check out this wonderful book!

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For more recommendations of historical fiction about the French Impressionists and Post-impressionists, see the articles below: