Joseph Pulitzer Jr. inherited the famous name and occupation of his grandfather, the journalist and publisher who established the Pulitzer Prizes. While he carried on the family tradition at the helm of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he was also building one of the greatest private art collections of the twentieth century. Classic Modern: The Art Worlds of Joseph Pulitzer Jr. is the ﬁrst biography to focus on this often-overlooked aspect of Pulitzer’s life—arguably his greatest passion.
Marjorie B. Cohn describes how Pulitzer, a youthful playboy with nerve enough to purchase six Picassos the year he graduated from Harvard (1936), became in his maturity an ardent and eﬀective advocate for modernism in the American Midwest. Beyond his public role in journalism, Pulitzer assembled, by purchase and by patronage over a half century, an exceptional private collection. His acquisitions ranged from a Matisse bought in 1939—the most important twentieth-century painting at the Nazi sale of “degenerate” art—to commissions of the ﬁrst outdoor site-speciﬁc works by Donald Judd, Richard Serra, and Dan Flavin in the 1970s. Cohn details Pulitzer’s integration of paintings and sculpture into distinctive personal architectural and landscape environments and his intricate relationships with artists, dealers, museums, and his alma mater. She touches on the tensions between upper-class collectors and countercultural artists, and between connoisseurs and the cultural theorists who were gaining ground in the academy. Above all, this examination of the art worlds of Joseph Pulitzer Jr. brings to life the burgeoning taste for modern art in twentieth-century America.
Marjorie B. Cohn is Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints, Emerita, at the Harvard Art Museums.
“Besides inheriting the eminent liberal newspaper the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Joe Pulitzer was endowed with an exceedingly gifted eye and mind for modern art. Pulitzer had the further advantage of dazzling looks, wit, and charm—qualities that masked a canny understanding of the art market, as Marjorie Cohn’s lively yet learned biography reveals. This great book is the more welcome for the light it casts on the history of connoisseurship and collecting in America. The wave of modernism that swept the country in the middle of the last century deserves such a record. People are beginning to forget how salutary art collecting used to be before it was taken over by Wall Street.”
— John Richardson
“Classic Modern is an honest account of the complexities, contradictions, joys, and fulﬁllments of a life fully lived. This book implicitly but most clearly draws out the distinction between a patron of the arts and a collector of art.”
— Richard Serra
“Marjorie Cohn’s thoroughly researched and beautifully written book is a compelling account of a life lived with integrity, courage, and compassion. It needs to be read by everyone interested not only in the building of an important collection of art but in the way that collection was so much a part of the life and times of the man who built it.”
— James Cuno