Though we tend to look upon the “roaring twenties” and the thirties in France as a moment of artistic flourishing that saw the birth of movements like Dada and Surrealism, a study detailing the strength and variety of forces opposed to the avant-garde during this critical period has yet to be written.
Presenting case studies of influential reactionary and anti-avant-gardeist critics, pedagogues and art historians active in the 1920s and 30s, my dissertation expands our understanding of these actors, exploring the relationship between their anti-democratic politics as adherents to Action Française or Italian Fascism, and their aesthetic judgement.
Complicating our understanding of this period, I explore the interventions of these right-wing intellectuals within the public sphere and at the level of the French state, outlining the varied and surprising strategies through which those seeking to destroy “modernism” sought to implement and institutionalize their campaigns.
Revealing the contours of a powerful, persistent, and often successful cultural and political agenda, my dissertation demonstrates the substantial challenges posed to modern art in the interwar period, as well as the tacit complicity of the French state with these efforts. My findings suggest that the acceptance and canonization of modernism today was never an historical inevitability by virtue of its advanced status. It was contingent on a delicate balance of power that played within the art world and without.