An American In Paris: How Painter Shirley Jaffe Mastered The Secret Of Hard-Edge Vitality

View of the exhibition “Shirley Jaffe: An American Woman in Paris,” 2022, at the Centre Pompidou, Paris.MNAM-CCI/HELENE MAURI

Shirley Jaffe, who died in 2016 a few days short of her 93rd birthday, is the subject of “Une Américaine à Paris,” a luminous retrospective currently at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The French capital was her adopted home, where she had lived and worked since 1949. While many American artists came to Paris after the war—more than 300 were reportedly there in the 1950s—only a handful stayed more than a few years.

Drawn by the city’s history, culture, and romantic bohemian life, these visitors found Paris cheap, especially after the 1948 devaluation of the French franc. Veterans could benefit from the GI Bill, which provided a cash stipend and tuition at places such as the Académie Julian, the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and the École des Beaux-Arts. It also enabled Jaffe’s husband, an American journalist assigned to Paris, to take classes at the Sorbonne.

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