During the decade leading up to the outbreak of the First World War, a wave of innovation swept through the advanced art and cultural circles of Europe, giving rise to Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Orphism, Rayonism and Vorticism, among other movements. As Philip Hook says in this informative but lightly written book, they poured out one after another ‘like water gurgling in a bottleneck’. Paris remained at the heart of the art world, as it had done for much of the previous century, but other cities became centres of artistic experimentation, including Dresden, Munich, Vienna, Milan, Moscow and London. Many of the artists who came to prominence then are household names today, not just Picasso, Braque and Matisse, but also Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Marcel Duchamp, Juan Gris, Wassily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, Wyndham Lewis and Egon Schiele. In addition to the artists there were the dealers, critics and collectors who promoted and supported them. Such names as Ambroise Vollard, Paul Durand-Ruel, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Roger Fry, Sergei Diaghilev, Gertrude and Leo Stein and Sergei Shchukin will be familiar to those with an interest in 20th-century culture. Some of the other figures mentioned by Hook, such as the Slade-trained John Currie, who killed his mistress and committed suicide aged thirty, or the equally obscure Viennese Richard Gerstl, who, following an affair with Schoenberg’s wife, Mathilde, stabbed himself in a studio overlooking Freud’s consulting rooms, remain virtually unknown.
The author, a former director of Sotheby’s, writes knowledgeably and from a position of privileged intimacy with some of the works he discusses: Picasso’s Dryad (1908), for instance, painted a year after Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, hung above his desk for some weeks prior to its sale. Les Demoiselles,