FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — University of Arkansas history professor Richard Sonn has written a new book about immigrant Jewish artists and their influence on Parisian modernism in the first half of the 20th century.

The book is titled “Modernist Diaspora: Immigrant Jewish Artists in Paris, 1900-1945.” Sonn reveals “the critical role of intellectual and cultural exchange among the city’s Jewish immigrant artists in creating the vibrancy of Parisian modernism.,” according to a press release.

By tracing the experiences of Jewish artists who made their way to Paris in the years between the beginning of the 20th century and the end of World War II, the author gives readers a close look at a unique cultural and social environment that was key to the work of a generation of artists who “produced the greatest efflorescence of art in the long history of the Jewish people.”

At the heart of the book is the left-bank neighborhood of Montparnasse, where Jewish painters and sculptors gathered amidst the rising tide of antisemitism and nationalism in Europe. The works of great artists such as Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, and Sonia Delaunay-Terk were created here, made possible by the diverse, cosmopolitan society of Paris and the swirling artistic trends of the 20th century. 

“The matrix of modernism granted immigrant artists the right to innovate freely and independently, while the artists’ colony allowed its denizens to live differently, in ways that challenged prevailing attitudes toward racism, antisemitism and militarism,” Sonn said.

The last chapter explains how these artists responded personally and artistically to the Holocaust, with the lucky ones finding exile in the U.S. and Switzerland, and others going into hiding in the south of France. More than a hundred were deported, of whom only a handful returned to Paris.

Sonn is a professor of history at the University of Arkansas, where he specializes in modern European and modern French history and is active in the university’s Jewish Studies program. His previous work has emphasized cultural and intellectual history in France, with a keen interest in the emerging modernist milieu of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Published by Bloomsbury, “Modernist Diaspora: Immigrant Jewish Artists in Paris, 1900-1945” includes 60 illustrations, most in color.