Long before Clement Greenberg dubbed it “the fountainhead of modern art” in 1961, Paris had set the standard by which world art was measured, providing a milieu deep with tradition and often populated by genius. Paris was also a lure for African-American writers, artists, entertainers, and musicians—a fact that had as much to do with race relations in the United States as it did with the cultural and social attractions of Paris. Luminaries such as Josephine Baker, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and a host of jazz and blues musicians found in Paris an environment free from overt racism. It was, to be certain, not a color-blind society or one devoid of irony: the artist Palmer Hayden found that he was treated better by the French when he let it be known that he was an American. Yet Paris provided, as the painter Edward Clark wryly observed, a place where “one was hated as an equal.” This may sound like...


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