Rosenberg, H. "The fall of Paris" 1

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In this article Harold Rosenberg highlights Paris' great position in international Modernism during the first decades of the twentieth Century. He does this by analysing the social and political changes happened in the pre-war parisian society, and what those changes meant for the development -or fall of Paris' modernity.

He also shows us in fact, how the city's greatness was due to come to an end and leave the place to New York, the next modernist city. The text "The Fall of Paris" is an introduction and the premise for one of Rosenberg's most known essays "The American Action Painters"[1]

The Style of Today

During the course of the twenthieth Century, some exuberant artistic mouvements took place in Europe and in particular in Paris, described as the Holy Place for artists [2].

Paris was described by Rosenberg as a "passive" city that could be possessed, owned and modified by artists. That passivity was seen by Rosenberg as the key which led Paris to become an art Capital. That extreme and free environment offered by the capital's variety was the ideal context for international artists, students and refugees to settle in; Paris became therefore a pioneer city for culture in the same way that America was for economy[3].

That specifict intellectual mileu gave birth to "international culture" : the influences received from the international crowd were visible not only in cafes, clothes and street life, but came out also -and especially in visual arts. That art, states Rosenberg, could not be called Parisian, nor European but International. International as a constant and not a variable. The definition for this sort of development in a city's look and culture is by Rosenberg the definition of "the Modern"[3].That concept of Modernity started inherently to be associated with Paris as a way of life, and therefore to create a style which became largely adopted by avangardists or rejected and criticised by the conservative crowd .[4]

The modern artist tried very hard to push the limits of the acceptable, in order to come out from the deadness of the real world and fullfill the search for freedom[5]. What this meant was that the modern artist community in Paris was interested in looking for the now and the immediate feelings of the moment, without having to attain the boundaries of time. As such, Rosenberg described this condition as a No-Time Paris. This was also a way for that artist community to get estranged from the present time they were living in. That estrangement, second to Rosenberg, is what made Modernism more of a sentiment than an historical movement. In short, a sentiment for eternity, outside of time boundaries[6].

In parallel to the "No-Time" Paris, Rosenberg also defines in his essay a "No-Place" Paris, which purely concerned the international aspect of the city. The multiculturality of the capital, the myriad of artistic influences, etnicities and religions managed to produce the most neutral, completely past-free context ever seen. Rosenberg points out, however, that this change of paradigma had concerned not only Paris as a single city, but a wider international ground, involving the entire European scene and other countries world wide such as Japan, South America, United States, Russia and China, which will become central for the development of modernity. In fact, what came to be called "modern epoch" as ideology stayed active in these other countries post war in their variations (social, economic and cultural aspects) [7].

The Intellectual Form of Defeat

With the growth of a strongly unstable political situation in Europe, Parisian non-conformist artists were forced to change their rebel paradigma to one more conventional.The time of Antifascism had come and the artists' duty became that of saving Culture from the hands of Fascism. The Leftist part of Paris came then out with Communist rebellions[8].

Rosenberg compaired Germany's political situation to Paris art. As he sets the premises for pure art as free and indipendent from its own laws, can german inhuman politcs in that period be described as an "avant-gard". Man in that period and in that context could be compared to the artist in Paris from the previous decade, where he was intoxicated by the incoherence of modernity[9]. That Extreme milieu that sorrounded German artists was crucial to determine a stop to new ideas and innovations. A clima of terror would make it impossible for a regeneration of what was already crumbling from the previous two decades in Paris, where, states Rosenberg, the artist had gone too far. Thus the Second War flattened Paris both ideologically, artistically and literally, changing is status from modern Capital to a mere part of France.


This article by Rosenberg is an interesting way of looking at the historical succession of events which led to the shift of the capital of culture not only away from Paris, but away from the European continent, mostly due to the destructiveness of the german regime and internal political unstabilities.

Rosenberg's style is often allegorical and at times hironical, certainly from a different time and context. Trhough this essay, he manages however to clearly state his positive position on the international aspect of Modernism.

Literature list

Harrison & Wood. "The Fall of Paris" Modernism as Critique. Art in Theory 1900-2000. Malden: Blackwell,2003

Rosenberg, Harold. Tradition of the New, London and New York, 1962, pp.209-20


  1. Harrison and Wood, Art in Theory, 550
  2. Rosenberg, Tradition of the New, 209
  3. 3,0 3,1 Rosenberg, Tradition of the New, 210
  4. Rosenberg, Tradition of the New, 211
  5. Rosenberg, Tradition and New, 212
  6. Rosenberg, Tradition of the New, 213
  7. Rosenberg, Tradition and New, 214-15
  8. Rosenberg, Tradition and New, 217
  9. Rosenberg, Tradition and New, 218