Pierre Daix

Towards a Cultural History of Modern Art The Twentieth Century Publication date : May 1, 2000

Le XXe Siècle de l’Art continues the history of modern art begun in the volume published in 1998 by Editions Odile Jacob, under the title De David à Cézanne. Pour une histoire culturelle de l’art moderne. The continuity is first of all chronological, since this second volume begins in 1900 and ends in the 1970s, a period dominated by the physical and symbolic disappearance of Picasso. But the continuity is also present in the perspective adopted by the author, who argues that “modern” art has found its unity in its refusal of all forms of academic art, while being nourished by successive innovations.
Among the upheavals that characterised the twentieth century, one of the most significant was the shock produced by colonial expansion and the discovery of so-called “primitive” art. Matisse, Picasso and the Expressionists were united in their admiration of primitivism, which was to give birth both to the cubist and the abstract revolutions — the expressiveness of matter, distortion, pure colour, and abstraction vs. the imitation of nature. In different ways, the two world wars added to and enriched the artistic counterculture’s vision, not only through the dadaist and surrealist movements, but also through the work of Miro, Dubuffet, the New York School, Francis Bacon, Cobra, the post-1945 abstract generation, and many others.
Pierre Daix concludes his analysis of a century and a half of artistic innovations and fractures with a polemical examination of “contemporary art” viewed as a “new form of academic art”, in opposition to the very essence of painting.

An unrivalled authority on Picasso, Pierre Daix is the author of many renowned books on art history, including La Vie du Peintre Edouard Manet (Fayard, 1983), Le Dictionnaire Picasso (Laffont, 1995) and Picasso et Matisse (Ides and Calendes, 1996).