Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. Packed with evocative illustrations, this book is a vibrant kaleidoscope of the incomparable city at its dazzling peak.
The city was ablaze with bright lights and the sound of jazz, and the ideas and fashions born there spread across the world, attracting a host of international artists, writers and performers to come and share the excitement of the period that the French called les années folles – the crazy years.
Bohemian Montparnasse, with its cafés, bars and studios, was a hub of creative energy. Cubism, Surrealism and Dada turned Paris into the home of the avant-garde, and Picasso and Matisse were just two of the leading lights in a scene that included Chagall, Giacometti, Léger, Miró and Calder.
Intellectual life was punctuated by artistic quarrels, ideological debates, rival literary schools and competing theatrical styles. In literary circles, Gide, Valéry and Malraux were at the forefront of French thought, while world writers who found inspiration there included Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce.
But Paris was not just a city of the mind: it was a city of unsurpassed style. The International Exhibition of 1925 became a landmark event, and Art Deco and modernist designers embraced the beauty of technology, machinery and all that contemporary life had to offer.
It was a golden age for haute couture, too, with the houses of Chanel, Lanvin and Schiaparelli dressing the emancipated women who peopled Paris’s glittering social scene, while the exotic nightlife was embodied in the sensational glamour of Josephine Baker.
When the Great Depression of the 1930s cast a shadow over the world, the carefree days were over but the city’s creative spirit continued to flourish. Political and social turmoil began to be reflected in such challenging works as Picasso’s Guernica, while the films of René Clair and the photography of Brassaï and André Kertész captured a darker side to life.