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A first rate examination of the moral decisions people had to make as they lived
on 8 December 2015
If several books on the Nazi Occupation touch on the plight of French intellectuals/writers/artists, Spotts has written the strongest historical analysis through a combination of rigorous research, and organising his material with intelligence and flair. There are separate chapters dealing with writers, novelists, artists, composers, and theatre folk – although this work avoids sensationalism and celebrity gossip, while attempting to develop a systematic view of the creative discipline being discussed.
For example, in his chapter analysing how visual arts were affected by the Occupation, Spotts has - much like other books - sections dealing with Picasso (in Paris) and then Matisse (in Vichy France). But he goes much further in detailing the experiences of the rising young painter Andre Fougeron, a proactive member of the Resistance; as well as the leading critic and museum curator Jean Cassou; the major gallery owner Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler; the small time art dealer Maurice Laffaille; then several art agents who fronted for the Nazis; before rounding off with certain French artists who fled to America. In this way the author gives a clear and detailed overview of how the Occupation impacted upon the art scene in its broader sense.
Spotts fixes on the moral problems individuals faced (or chose to ignore), not just what their experiences were. The stress throughout is on establishing contrasts, and using individuals to cumulatively build a big picture. Mind you, some profiles of how cultural celebrities fawned over Nazi officials are scandalously entertaining (Jean Cocteau is roasted to a self-serving crisp). Spotts also explains well how resistence could be manifested via creative works. Many books on the Occupation mention Clouseau's cryptic 1943 film "Le Corbeau", but this book explains far more fully how it came to be made, the symbolism (including slang phrases used), cinematic content, and then the angry reception.
This is an exemplary, reader-friendly and jargon-free book: I have learned much.