Félix Fénéon: Critic, Collector, Anarchist

Paul Signac, “Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890” (1890), oil on canvas. 29 x 36 1/2 inches (the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David Rockefeller, 1991; photo by Paige Knight; © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris, all images courtesy Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Sometimes leftist politics matter for art writers. Three passionate modern admirers of Nicolas Poussin, an aloof reactionary, were leftists: Anthony Blunt, Richard Wolheim, and T. J. Clark. Clement Greenberg, who when young was devoted to radical politics, borrowed his historiography from Marxism. And Louis Aragon, Henri Matisse’s champion, remained a communist to the end of his life.

Even now, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Harvard’s modernist, is a passionate Marxist. And although the Soviets quickly turned against their modernists, October, once the most influential academic publication dealing with contemporary art, is named after Sergei Eisenstein’s famous 1928 movie about the Bolshevik revolution.

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