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Yep.  Artists and writers. Like the political advances of the era (Progressivism) ideas traveled back and forth across the Atlantic, although it was much more likely that the Americans would go to Europe and come back with ideas. But cities were necessary for the process, as was artistic collaboration. So said Robert Morse Crunden (1940-1999), in American Salons: Encounters with European Modernism, 1885-1917 (1993).

Where to begin? This is a book I read during my second semester of graduate work in a course called American Intellectual and Cultural History, Twentieth Century. Our professor (at this point for a number of reasons we'll call him He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) assigned each of the eight of us in the seminar a book about the new century to read and report on the following week, and, predictably for him, he cancelled the class we were supposed to report about our books in. The following week, at the break in this three hour seminar, I was complaining to some of my fellow students that I REALLY found the book interesting and worth reporting on, so when we came back somebody told Professor HWMNTN, "Dave really wants to talk about his book." He let me, although I have the impression he interrupted me about every 20 seconds with tangential issues. Interrupted me frequently at any rate, as if I were interrupting the 75 minutes of talking he wanted to do. But I finished, and the book did more to influence my eventual dissertation than any other secondary source I read for it. Life-changing, insofar as it gave me direction even before I selected my topic.

Intellectual history is divided into two parts these days: the history of ideas and the social history of intellectuals (I think that's from David Hollinger, but my memory is faulty). History of ideas is something I can discuss, but as far as research goes it's rather out of my pay range (I can't read German all that well). Social history of intellectuals, however, is an acknowledgment that the creative process doesn't take place in a vacuum, and American Salons is an inquiry into the processes that created modernism on this side of the Atlantic, and a tour-de-force at that.

Crunden describes his project, and he acknowledges that quite a lot has been written about modernism. We know about the subject, and we know the people and (some of) the places associated with its development, so

What remains is to synthesize the purport of their work in language that transcends disciplinary boundaries and to indicate how America fitted into the picture (xii).
No, America with its traditional Puritan hostility to the arts might not be the best fit.

He identifies three precursors of modernism: James A.M. Whistler, William James and his brother, Henry James. These skeptics set examples for the outsiders who composed the first generation of American modernists who looked to Europe to learn its language. What they shared with Europeans was a stance:

In its American version, the stance distrusted authority, scorned politics and feared boredom more then hell. (xiv)
We did, however, bring film and jazz to the party. And, of course, the cities, and, within the cities, the salons,
where artists learned to communicate in a modern way. (xiv)
The book is arranged in five sections.  In the first section, he discusses the proto-modernism of Whistler and the James Brothers. I have to admit I have difficulty looking at Whistler as an American artist. Yes, he was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1834, but he grew up in Russia where his father was helping design the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  Whistler did go home to attend West Point, but he was expelled for general misconduct. When he left for England in 1855, it was his last trip across the Atlantic and he never returned.  And then there's this:

Hommage á Delacroix, Henri Fantin-Latour, 1864, Muséé d'Orsay, Paris.
The guy with the curly hair just to the left of the portrait of Delacroix is Whistler. The rest of the people are the movers and shakers of French culture: Charles Baudelaire, Edouard Manet, the artist, so on. Whistler and Manet are standing on opposite sides of the picture. FRENCH culture. But I digress.

The next section discusses five American cities and what they brought to the modernist party. Philadelphia produced the arch-modernists Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle (who wrote as HD) and William Carlos Williams, all poets. Chicago acted as a way-station for modernists from the Midwest who were heading for New York, as an incubator for the magazines Poetry and the Little Review, and as material for Theodore Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson. New Orleans is there for jazz, Los Angeles is there for film, and Baltimore is there for Gertrude and Leo Stein.


Leo, Gertrude and Michael Stein, 1907.

Sections Three and Four may best be described by their titles. Three: London, where Ezra Pound Appropriated the Salons of Yeats and (Ford Maddox) Hueffer, where we also meet Robert Frost and Thomas Stearns Eliot, and Four: Paris, where the Stein Families Provided for Visiting Americans, where we also meet the photographer Eduard Steichen, and the painters Marsden Hartley, Stanton MacDonald-Wright and Morgan Russell.

The final section discusses the three American salons, "run" by the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, the socialite Mabel Dodge, and the art collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg. I think I'll use my own encounter with these chapters to explain what each of them was about. You see, the bookseller I wrote about had his hands in so many cultural fields in Los Angeles that it seemed to me that he was really running a salon out of his bookstore, and American Salons provided me with the taxonomy I needed to explain that. Here's part of my introductory chapter where I lay that out.

Although Robert Crunden did not set up a taxonomic classification of the salons or social circles he wrote about in his pioneering work, American Salons: Encounters with European Modernism, it is clear that the salons he described (those "operated" by the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, the socialite Mabel Dodge, and the collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg) functioned in different and very distinct ways.  Examination of Zeitlin’s bookstore as a salon in the context of Crunden’s work shows it to be most like the Stieglitz salon, with the bookstore standing in for Stieglitz’s various art galleries (291, the Intimate Gallery and An American Place) particularly insofar as Zeitlin always had a space within his stores where he displayed art.  This does not seem to be the way the salons associated with Dodge, a facilitator who collected people for freewheeling discussions, or with the Arensbergs, who were patrons but not publishers, operated.  Steiglitz took over the publication of the little magazine Camera Notes and then published a “bigger” magazine, Camera Work, as the manifesto of his Photo-Secession movement, during which time the writers who contributed to the magazine also wrote for other less-focused publications on matters having to do with the larger world of art.  He operated the 291 Gallery to demonstrate visually what Camera Work meant about photography and, later, the Intimate Gallery and An American Place during the 1920s to show the work of modern American artists, much as Zeitlin emphasized local artists in the art he displayed.  

There are of course major differences between Zeitlin’s business in art and the Stieglitz operation.  Zeitlin was not himself a visual artist, but an art dealer.  He displayed (and sold) work that might not have come into existence without Stieglitz’s activities (for example, the photographs of Edward Weston).  Stieglitz, although he sold art, disdained the role of dealer, choosing instead the roles of “active patron, astute collector, and impassioned supporter of the arts.”  Zeitlin’s social circle resembled Stieglitz’s operations both in terms of its ability to provide patronage and in the nature of the patronage it provided; several members of the Zeitlin circle provided other members with outlets, sometimes commercial, for their creative output.  On the other hand, as a gathering place, Zeitlin’s bookstores were more like the Arensbergs’ living room.  The art historian William Innes Homer has suggested that 291 was an extension of Stieglitz and his thought, while the “less doctrinaire” Walter Arensberg promoted greater freedom of a kind that was more in keeping with the development of Dada in the United States.  Zeitlin also showed other members of his circle the advantages of attracting creative people to your business establishment, as the printers Saul Marks and Ward Ritchie have both testified.  Zeitlin’s display of art was decidedly commercial.  Nevertheless, Zeitlin’s involvement with art raises questions concerning the collaboration between artist and art dealer and about the ways in which institutions connected with a conservative culture assisted in introducing elements of the avant-garde into a specific cultural milieu.
(D. M. Parker, Small Renaissance: Jake Zeitlin, Bookselling and the Cultural World of Los Angeles, 1925-1948, 2003, 32-34.

Don't worry about fair use. First, it's my own work, and second, it's two of 446 pages, so this is only scraping the surface. At any rate, that's how I used it, and yes, I have an entire chapter about the collaborations between artists and art dealers in Los Angeles during the 1930s. Picasso's Guernica spent a few weeks in Los Angeles in the late summer of 1939!

So yes, changed my life. I've been diverted professionally by the passage of Proposition 8, but I'm returning to my dissertation to milk it for everything it's worth for the next year or so.

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 05:00 AM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

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