French Modernisms: Perspectives on Art before, during and after Vichy

(Cambridge University Press, 2001)

This text is both a sequel to the exploration of free and applied art that I undertook in Artists under Vichy, and an expansion of its chronological scope. From the first essay, a discussion of a highly restrictive exhibition of modern French art held in Nazi Berlin in 1937 to the last one, a meditation on a poster of May 68 showing Hitler as a double of de Gaulle, I have tried to home in on events and images that connect art and politics in France.

Although I show that the Vichy epoch brought racism and xenophobia to exceptional heights, I also show that the premise underlying the defense of the beautiful tree of French art during Vichy -- namely that art must protect itself against a dangerous virus -- dies hard in France, and always seems to find a new foe. In the postwar years it seems to have been Expressionism, and particularly American Abstract Expressionism. I also point out that resistance to this artistic isolationism often goes unrewarded, and that May '68 leaves an ambiguous trace with regards to a more internationalist outlook.

In the end, this book tends to refute the view that the invasion of the Paris artworld by American art, masterminded by the CIA, was solely responsible for why Paris could not resist the assault of new American art in the postwar years. It proposes that the parisian art establishment caused its own downfall by continuing to abide by ideas dominant during Vichy (1940-1944)-- issues of national identity and national tradition, and fear of the vampiric "other" (the American invader holding a menorah whose caricature is found in the essay on antisemitic art criticism).

This thoughtful and engaging study is neither a diatribe nor a prolonged lament. Rather, it’s a series of straight forward, loosely linked essays exploring the complex relations between the Vichy government and the world of art and design - and their repercussions today. Cone’s nonsensationalist tone makes her observations seem all the more startling, as we see not only venality in action, but also naivete, self-interest, and survival as motivations.
— Barbara A. MacAdam, Art News November 2001
A must read for those working on the Vichy period and its aftermath.
— SubStance vol. 32. no. 3, 2003
Having started her history with Hitler and Vichy, Cone fittingly ends it with de Gaulle and May ‘68 - not to draw parallels between these authoritarian regimes, but to point out how minimal information on the nazi Occupation, together with little memory of the Holocaust can engender what she calls “a dangerous confusion.” Without exposure to the new histories to which she herself has so substantially contributed, different forms of authoritarianism risk being conflated as Fascism. While the May ‘68 posters of Hitler disguised as de Gaulle signalled students’ equation of the Resistance leader General de Gaulle with Hitler, French students ignored the Fascist reality of Vichy and Pétain - even though, as Cone incisively points out, its was Pétain, not de Gaulle, who was an accomplice to Hitler’s atrocities.
— Fay Brauer, Art History June 2002
Her book is good to think with about the continuities and discontuities of the Third Republic, Vichy, and the postwar era in the politics of French color.
— Herman Lebovics, The Journal of Modern History December 2003

Artists under Vichy. A Case of Prejudice and Persecution

(Princeton University Press, 1992), a revised version of a Ph.D. thesis entitled Art and Politics in France, 1940-1944 (UMI, 1988).

A remarkable, eye opening study...
— Publishers' Weekly January 20, 1992
A significant, insightful, scholarly study recommended for art museum, and academic libraries...
— Joan Levin, Library Journal February 1, 1992
Though Ms.Cone does not presume to lift the final veil from the imponderable factors’ affecting individual choices during the occupation, her admirable, detailed record documents exactly what those choices were.
— Sarah Boxer, New York Times Book Review October 11, 1992
Cone demonstrates that critics actively and artists tacitly participated in the purge [of Jews and foreign artists], the former by following the Vichy line, and the latter by taking part in exclusionary exhibitions…. Yet Cone skirts the issue of what constituted collaboration for an artist. Was Henri Matisse a collaborator because he continued to exhibit his work under conditions of exclusion about which he cannot have been ignorant? How are we to regard the group of artists who agreed to make a tour of German cities sponsored by the nazi Ministry of Propaganda, a group that included Maurice Vlaminck and André Derain whose works had been banned from German museums?
— Martica Sawin, Art Journal Spring 1993

The Roots and Routes of Art in the 20th Century

(Horizon Press, 1975)

The two prime iconoclasts of modern art, Picasso and Matisse, are placed vividly in the Paris of 1904-1905 at the beginning of this well-written and absorbing narrative-chronicle. It may not be Michele Cone’s conscious intent, but her arbitrary placement of these audacious innovators at the opening of her study inevitably leads the reader to the sense that all that followed in Western art bore their imprint. That is an oversimplification but it is not wholly wrong. Paris-born and Brussels-domiciled Ms. Cone intends a savvy, instructive yet lively tracing of the radical impact of Picasso and Matisse on the swiftly proliferating movements of our century. She shows persuasively how and why the rest followed-Cubism, Fauvism, Dadaism, Surrealism, the Bauhaus experiments and, through a linkage of creative ferment, the explosions on the American scene through Pollock and DeKooning, amoung others, to the present day.
— Publishers' Weekly September 29, 1975