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Jules Pascin: The Prince of Montparnasse

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Portraying women, often nude or in stages of undress, in a fleeting, gestural aesthetic akin to the movements of Fauvism or Cubism, the Bulgarian-born American Expressionist painter, Julius Mordecai Pincas, is renowned for his delicate draftsmanship and sensitive studies of women, and for his bohemian depictions of Parisian life in the early 20th century.

Known as the “Prince of Montparnasse” the artist was born in Vidin, Bulgaria on March 31, 1885, to an affluent Sephardic Jewish family. He was educated in Vienna before he moved to Munich, where he attended art school in 1903. Beginning in 1904, his drawings were regularly published in satiric journals such as the Lustige Blatter and Simplicissimus. At the request of his family, who disapproved of his bohemian lifestyle, he changed his name to Pascin in 1905.

That same year, Pascin traveled to Berlin, Vienna, and Budapest before settling in the art capital of Paris, where he established his studio in the heart of Montmartre and befriended many fellow artists. There, he quickly found artistic popularity and became associated with the Modernist movement.

He was embraced by the members of the Parisian art world. He regularly exhibited prints and drawings in various important Parisian salons, including the Salon des Independents and satellite exhibitions of the Berlin Secession.

To avoid service in Bulgarian army, at the outbreak of World War I, Pascin emigrated from Paris to the United States, where he lived and worked from 1914 to 1920. In the New York City, he achieved instant success and earned a one-man exhibition within a month of his arrival. In the pursuit of the bucolic landscapes of the southern United States, Pascin left the city’s vibrant art scene in 1915. A restless artist seeking inspiration, he visited North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, and even Cuba, recording his travels in his sketches.

In 1920, Pascin became a naturalized US citizen with the help of Alfred Stieglitz. That same year, he returned to post-war Paris where he would spend most of the rest of his life. There he began to create a series of large-scale, representational and very sensitively drawn biblical and mythological paintings. In the 1920s he painted works for which he is best-known, the delicately toned, thinly painted, but poetically bitter and ironic studies of women, usually prostitutes. He was a financially successful artist, but he continued to lead a life of debauchery and excess.

Despite achieving success in Europe and North America, Pascin never achieved critical discourse he craved. Eventually succumbing to depression and alcoholism, Jules Pascin took his own life on the eve of an important solo show on June 5, 1930, at the age of 45.

Pascin’s work was appreciated throughout his life and beyond, marked by such achievements as his inclusion in the notorious 1913 Armory Show in New York. Today, his work can be found in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago, and others.


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