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In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  1,089 ratings  ·  143 reviews
A lively and deeply researched group biography of the figures who transformed the world of art in bohemian Paris in the first decade of the twentieth century

In Montmartre is a colorful history of the birth of Modernist art as it arose from one of the most astonishing collections of artistic talent ever assembled. It begins in October 1900, as a teenage Pablo Picasso, eager
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published April 21st 2015 by Penguin Press (first published July 31st 2014)
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 ·  1,089 ratings  ·  143 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
”It is a wonderful thing how much courage it takes even to buy a clock you are very much liking when it is a kind of one everyone thinks only a servant should be owning. It is very wonderful how much courage it takes to buy bright coloured handkerchiefs when everyone having good taste uses white ones or pale coloured ones, when a bright coloured one gives you so much pleasure you suffer always at not having them. It is very hard to have the courage of your being in you, in clocks, in handkerchie ...more
Aug 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Susan Liston
May 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: art, read-2016, own-it
This is a extremely well researched book and there is a ton of information here. I'm slightly perplexed as to why I didn't find it more compelling reading than I did...perhaps it's partly because I just read a biography of Picasso and a lot of this was repetitive, maybe it was because of the way the story jumps from artist to artist a bit too much, maybe because there are hardly any illustrations...eight reproduced paintings and fourteen photos, period, so I constantly was having to resort to th ...more
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just as I did not want to leave Montmartre when I visited last August, I did not want this book to end.

I love biographies that are dedicated to place over person, to capturing a small group of individuals that come to characterise a place and create an unforgettable atmosphere that reverberates through the years. I am a sucker for the story of the starving artist - the elite group of dedicated people who suffer for their art, living in squalor and burning through personal and professional relat
Aug 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
Sue Roe's story of Pablo Picasso and other artists in the famous Paris quarter.

4* In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse, and the Birth of Modernist Art
TBR The Private Lives of the Impressionists
Book of the Week - August 04

Author Sue Roe account, abridged by Katrin Williams, describes how Pablo Picasso and other artists found this Paris quarter irresistible when arriving in the early 1900's.

Reader Stella Gonet

Producer Duncan Minshull.

(view spoiler)
Feb 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art
I was fortunate to receive an ARC for this book. In 1900 a teenaged Pablo Picasso arrived in Paris. Already there or soon to arrive were Derain, Vlaminck, Rousseau, Leo and Gertrude Stein, Paul Poiret, Diaghilev and of course Henri Matisse. The first decade of the 20th century changed the world for art, cinema, dance and fashion. The author keeps the focus tightly on culture - there isn't much mention of political or scientific events. I learned a great deal about this remarkable decade and the ...more
Jul 31, 2015 rated it it was ok
I'm pretty sure Picasso and Matisse's lives were more enthralling than this biography attempts to depict. ...more
Kirti Upreti
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book makes you realise how tumultous were the early decades of the 20th century and yet it was the same time that shaped the modern life. The period had the fortune to witness the emergence of some of the greatest minds of all time who not only brought new perspectives but even moved beyond their limitations. Picasso wasn't just a painter. Art was no more restricted to paintings. Matisse wasn't trying to make himself understood. Derain had his own opinions on what being an artist meant. It ...more
Sam Tornio
Roe must have been conscious of the fact that the image of a theatre troupe ‘parade’, which she applies metaphorically to fin de siècle Montmartre, also describes the multivalent rollicking of the prose she uses in writing about it; which, despite its scope and energy—like the cubist weltanschauung she herself calls into question—depends a bit too heavily on suggestive juxtapositions and ambiguous lacunae. Roe is often less than fully in control of this party, making her plethoric narrative less ...more
Dec 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: picasso, art
4.5 stars. A very “lively” interesting study — more social and biographical than critical — of Matisse and Picasso (and their artistic relationships) from 1900-1910. This focused time span allows Roe to develop her themes in some depth. She is especially good on the period before their financial successes, with fascinating discussions of Montmartre, the Butte, the various personalities, including Fernande and Modigliani, the circuses, early cinema, and the dealers of that time. The final section ...more
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant and thorough account of the lives and workings of not only the artists of Montmartre, but also the art dealers, collectors and other players of the art scene. I would highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in the interplay between the early modernist painters of Paris, but especially to art teachers looking to distill the history of the era for their students.
Maxine Schur
Nov 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
For all Paris and art lovers this is a must read-- the author takes you into the heart of Montmartre where Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Modigliani and others all swirled around each other at shabby apartments, low-class cafes and of course at Gertrude Stein's. Depicts the rise of all these (and more) scruffy young artists living in Montmartre and working to make their mark on art. ...more
Kevin McAvoy
Oct 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very good descriptions of artists lives, struggles and peeves at the turn of the century.
Picasso's bio was very interesting and will lead me to another of his biographies.
Noah Goats
May 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. Roe follows the lives of Picasso and Matisse along with other artists, art dealers, collectors, and writers living in Paris just after the turn of the century. They are, needless to say, a colorful group. Roe explores their lives, their loves, their work, and also their environment as she brings the Montmartre of the era to life.
Liz Estrada
Jan 23, 2021 rated it liked it
3.5 stars
Fraser Kinnear
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art, history
This is the story of the artists Picasso, Matisse, Derain, Braque, and Vlaminck when they all lived in Montmartre in the first 15 years of the 20th century. Out of this time and place came Fauvism and Cubism and subesquently, Roe argues, the entire modern art movement that would end art as imitation.

Aside from the painters, Roe spends a fair amount of time discussing the dealers and collectors who helped build the movement - in particular the Stein family. Roe seems to suggest that these artists
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
I picked up "In Montmartre..." to prepare for an upcoming trip to Paris, where we will be staying in a Montmartre hotel. I wanted to get a better appreciation for the area's history, but found the book to be an interesting look at the early days of 20th century art. All my life I have been looking at paintings by Picasso, Matisse, et. al., but never thought much about how they broke with the past and created a new way of making and thinking about art. My interpretation and paraphrase of this new ...more
Kevin Ferry
Jul 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art-history
Interesting. This was not the quickest read, though I must confess I rarely got the time to really throw myself into the book. The manner in which Sue Roe worked the various artists, designers, collectors, writers and peripheral figures together in her work was impressive. This is a very large and illustrious cast and one of the challenges as a reader is to remain invested as we flit from one group on Montmartre to another. Obviously it helps that most of these characters are so well known, but ...more
Andrew Tattersall
Oct 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Steve Martin deserves the blame for me reading this book. It was as a result of playing someone impersonating Elvis in his play Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays that I gained an interest in the developments in modern art in this period. It is a well researched, sometimes well written, account of the first decade of the last century and the developments in art in Paris. The authors view is that it was this decade, rather than the more commonly asserted subsequent decade, which saw the b ...more
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is so well written. It's dreamy and absorbing, and so well researched.

It's incredibly painful to read this as a creative woman. Roe has no anachronistic axe to grind about the treatment and life-chances of women in turn-of-the-century France. She's just telling the stories of the artists without deleting the women from them. Unusual for these figures and this period. Empathizing with the women in this history is a radically different experience from empathizing with the men, even though Roe
Ashley Bergman Carlin
Apr 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
Art historians will probably love it. I was disappointed by the lack of narrative arc, however. Seemed like there was potential for it to be more. Instead it read like a scene-by-scene summary of life for Picasso and Matisse from 1900-1911. The best parts of the book involved Gertrude Stein and her patronage of the arts. Like I said, those with a passion for straight-up art history will probably love it.
Hannah Green
There were parts where the digressions were too large, often at the expense of art writing, which was a little frustrating.

However, it's a great overview of the period and remains incredible readable even as the ideology behind modernism is tackled.
Paul Ataua
Aug 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Good overview of the period, but I really wanted to get inside Picasso’s head and understand the reasons for the changes in his art in that period and felt disappointed that this never really came out. It was readable, but lacked depth and never actually got me excited.
May 21, 2020 rated it did not like it
The very first impression over the first 32 pages of this book is — the author is really in love with the subject she is writing about. And you get swept along, sharing her enthusiasm, indulging in her vivid descriptions of things she can’t possible know anything about with certainty but which all might have as well happened the way she describes them. This isn’t advertised as a fiction book, therefore, you expect a certain level of credibility from it and you trust the author, having no reason ...more
Dec 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: art-history
I first read Sue Roe’s The Private Lives of Impressionists which I enjoyed immensely, but In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and The Birth of Modernist Art not nearly as much. Though it was interesting to read about Picasso and Matisse’s time in France between 1900 and 1907—their lives, relationships and their work. But the story I found, jumped around between people and time periods resulting in a frequently disjointed story. Yet despite this shortcoming, it’s a good read.

The book is well-researc
Brenden Gallagher
Oct 22, 2019 rated it liked it
I liked the idea of this book more than its execution.

I have long been fascinated by particular neighborhoods at particular times that yield extreme artistic output. Whether it is Brooklyn in 2004, Los Angeles in the late 60s, or Paris in the early 1900s, I think that such situations are inspiring and instructive. I have often wished I had come up as an artist in such a time and place.

The problem with "In Montmartre" is it ambitiously attempts to tackle a lot at once and ends up not quite achiev
Tony Wainaina
Apr 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In Montmartre was given to me as a Christmas gift in December 2015 by my dearest daughter Wambui. At first reading I ploughed through the book, consuming it as I would a work of fiction, and eventually ground to a halt after the first 100 or so pages. As much as the subject matter interested me, there was just too much detail to absorb, and I ended up glossing over this detail, failing to establish and maintain the thread of the storyline. I picked up In Montmartre again just over 5 years later, ...more
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art-history
This book sat on my nightstand for over a year, maybe two. There just always seemed to be something else that needed to be read first. Yet, last month I jumped in and found Roe’s book to be engrossing. The text meanders through the first decade of the 20th century revealing little gems of the development of Early Modernism. I appreciate the style of Roe’s writing and how she circles back again and again to add more information to the complex interrelatedness of the likes of Derain, Picasso, Mati ...more
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this a lot. As a biography, it's very readable. While it uses intricate details of primary sources--letters, journals, etc.--, it's never cumbersome. If anything, I thought it was a bit light on substance, but I can't judge a book too hard for being readable and this one still does a good job with its subject.

Its short chapters begin as snapshots of the times. In fact, at the beginning I was a bit bored because it didn't get to Picasso. However, shortly, it wasn't hard to get involved
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