The painter Jules Pascin was the epitome of the cosmopolitan, bohemian artist who came to define Paris of the 1920s. The latest exhibition at the Panasonic Shiodome Museum looks at the life and art of this painter, who was an important feature of the Parisian art scene until his suicide in 1930 at the age of 45.
Born in Bulgaria to Sephardic Jewish parents, he is best remembered nowadays for a chapter in “A Movable Feast” (1964), Earnest Hemingway’s posthumously published memoir of the Paris of 1910s-’20s — the “Lost Generation.” This was a generation that had been touched by the carnage of World War I and, in response, had developed a certain cynical and hedonistic attitude.
This is certainly the impression given off by Pascin in “With Pascin at the Dome,” the book’s chapter in which Hemingway describes his encounter with the artist, then at the height of his fame. This took place at the famous Dome Cafe in Montparnasse, with Pascin attended by two young models, one of whom he casually offers to let Hemingway “bang,” an offer the 25-year-old author turned down, with the words, “You probably banged her enough today.”
Rather than at the Dome, in Tokyo we encounter Pascin at the Shiodome. But his paintings nevertheless exude a little of this Montparnassian atmosphere into modern Tokyo, expressing the black-edged pleasures and jaded worldliness of that postwar generation. However, unlike Hemingway, who was seriously wounded while working for the Red Cross, Pascin had little direct experience of the war, having sat it out in America and Cuba, before returning to Paris in 1920.
Despite his tendency toward depression, which later ended his life, Pascin was clearly a “people person.” He was famous for arriving at parties carrying as many bottles of wine as humanly possible. This gregariousness seems to be reflected in his art, where people, especially women, seem to be his only subjects.
But this is deceptive. The mood here is quite different from his lively parties. The models are typically shown with the vacant, deadpan expressions that come with the boring business of sitting still for long periods. Pascin did not try to gloss over this, possibly because it resonated with something dark inside his own mind.
But another possible explanation is that he was merely using the models as jumping-off points for what are in effect semi-abstract figurative works. His smudgy, dappled, dirty-looking brushstrokes — sometimes sparkling with a hint of iridescence — give the canvases a de-centered quality that suggests the specific models were not that important.
Maybe that was why he so glibly offered one to the young American writer on their first acquaintance.
“Jules Pascin” at Shiodome Museum runs till March 29; open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. ¥1,000. Closed Wed. www.panasonic.co.jp/es/museum