This is an unfortunate idea for an exhibition: keep it out in the winter and place the photos and

Found in photos: The Lost Generation

Amerikaanse modellen op een caféterras in Parijs in 1925
American models on a café terrace in Paris in 1925. © Maurice-Louis Branger / Roger-Viollet

This is an unfortunate idea for an exhibition: keep it out in the winter and place the photos and long texts high above a busy shopping street that undergoes building work, so that viewers have to lift their necks to see them while dodging passersby and workers. And while you’re at it, here’s another bad idea: do not translate the text into English, even though the show about Americans and other Anglophones in Paris goes between the two world wars. Et voilà: the exhibition “La Génération Perdue, Des Américains à Paris, 1917-1939.”

The show is based on a just published (by Éditions Cohen & Cohen) book of the same name by Vincent Bouvet. The coffee table book contains an impressive collection of photos, some of which are known, but many are not.

The show starts with the American participation in the First World War, first as volunteers and finally, in 1917, as allies. This taste of life in Europe gave many donuts (or Sammies, as the French called them, in reference to Uncle Sam), especially those with an artistic or literary inclination, a taste of a different, more unrestrained lifestyle than they might have had House. The sobriquet used to describe them came from Gertrude Stein, who famously said to Ernest Hemingway: “All of you young people who served in the war … are a lost generation.”

Een elegante Parisienne babbelt met Amerikaanse soldaten in Parijs op 14 september 1918
An elegant Parisienne chattels with American soldiers in Paris on 14 September 1918. © Agence Excelsior-l’Équipe / Roger Viollet
One of the many charming statues is that of an elegant Parisienne in a fur stole and some equally chic children who “fraternise” with American soldiers on the street. Pictures from wartime also represent the American heiress Anne Morgan, who together with Ann Dyke set up the aid organization CARD (Comité Américain pour les Régions Dévastées) to help French citizens who had been affected by the war, and the link of the completely African-American 369th Infantry Division, the Harlem Hellfighters, led by James Reese Europe, who helped make American jazz a beloved art form in France.

By the end of the 1920s, about 40,000 Americans lived in Paris, divided into two different groups: businessmen and professionals, and writers, musicians and artists. In the section about the American commercial presence in Paris, there is a funny picture of a complete American house, complete with white wooden fence, arranged in the Grand Palais for an exhibition.

Things become more interesting when we reach the world of the artists and intellectuals of the Lost Generation. In an image from 1923, the literary lions James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Ford Madox Ford posed with art collector and patron saint John Quinn. Joyce is the personification of an elegant dandy, while the rumpled pound aggressively emerges as if he is about to attack the photographer.

Many other important Americans appear in the images: Janet Flanner (pseudonym “Genêt”), the brilliant writer who gave the New Yorker his “Letter from Paris” for 50 years; the great composer Cole Porter, once a resident of Paris; singer and dancer Josephine Baker; Sylvia Beach, owner of the bookshop Shakespeare & Company and publisher of Joyce’s Ulysses; and, of course, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

All this to say that this outdoor exhibition is worth a visit, despite the small hardships mentioned above.

Kind regards . Pierre

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