Every artist, especially right now, has to make his/her own tradition. The model of older artists and especially older artists and members of earlier generations, now dead, should be especially valuable. But each of these artists should be taken for what he/she is, a single example of a useful process, a model for our own action, but not a model primarily because of his/her specific choices, but because of the character of the process used.
Thus, it is clear that not everyone we like used the same models. Dufy and Bonnard certainly did not use the same models, nor did they use the models which Derain used. I would credit all three as wonderful models for us, without any negatives applied to any of the three. These are only three artists of a whole generation of useful ones. Among my friends who spoke of that generation positively, Leland also mentioned Vlaminck, Soutine, Roualt, Derain, Van Dongen, Matisse, Vuillard, Marquet, Modigliani [whose sculpture influenced Ulla], Giacometti, Morandi [for a number of years], Braque [selectively], Picasso [selectively], Leger [selectively]. Two younger painters were Helion and Balthus.
Leland always spoke positively of Paul Klee. A new jpeg showing a figure of his painted in a manner distinctly out of Klee has been posted on the Midwest Paint Group, and supports this.
This seems to me an unexceptionable list of School of Paris modernists. Only the surrealists are lacking. Morandi has been added, but Leland did not seem to know Di Pisis, whom I believe to have been the finest among the othe Italian painters roughly of Morandi's generation. For me, the early figurative paintings of Miro also were important, Especially the Farm of 1923 and the small Farm of 1924 at the Guggenheim. He was formally a member of the School of Paris, and his proto-surreal figurative paintings open to inclusion, here.
For Leland and Al Kresch, Derain was the central influence. Leland was also influenced heavily by both Derain and Balthus, and, especially in his drawing, by Giacommetti. Al, by Derain and more recently by Roualt. Both by Soutine, especially the late work. Ulla was a little different. She had a very big talent and often did life size standing premier coup self portraits which remind us of Nice Matisse, and the much slower painted Helion and Balthus figures.
I doubt that any of the artists I have mentioned thus far would have a bad word for Renoir. Renoir was a great, rich, full blooded, sensuous artist. A master of figure painting and composition. Unlike Monet, he went right through impressionism and came out the other side with a new passion for ancient Roman fresco painting. He was a paradigmatic neo traditional painter, as well as a modernist. His late figures were influenced by such work as the painting from the Villa of Mysteries, to their and our advantage. One can get right through post impressionism into modern times on his paintings alone. In my eyes even the great Derains look a little shallow and thinned out by comparison. On the other hand Derain was fully aware of Renoir and his value, and did continue him. Nothing else does this to Derain, and he stands out for his own modernist return to tradition, and his own new reconstruction of figurative painting after Fauvism. It was a different but parallel method to synthetic cubism which added in other parts of the tradition of picture making before impressionism. Impressionism, as you know, for the most part, deprived itself of earlier picture making methodology. Monet was the most radical in this sense.
I believe that modernist painting prepared all of us for a potential return. Learning to paint as abstract painters, and from nature again with some share of post Fauve, Derainist, Matissist or Cubist sensibility or the work of Balthus and selected Helions, prepared us to look at great painting from every era. When I, in my early 20s, just after college, enrolled in courses taught by Richard Offner which emphasized 12th through 14th century Italian painting, and a little beyond for the Sienese, I was prepared to love Duccio, Lorenzetti, Sassetta and Giovanni di Paolo, to mention just a few, and to find in them models for my own work. I didn't need the intercession of any 20th century master. I already knew and cared for Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Seurat, Renoir, and the following generations, especially Giacometti. A specific path through 20th century modernism such as the different paths advocated by Louis Finkelstein, Mercedes Matter, Carl Holty [an early Hoffman student], Burgoyne Diller, Leland Bell, Fairfield Porter, or others, seemed unnecessary to me. That is the major difference between me and the students of Leland Bell.
But, at the same time I value Leland and his work, and the path he made through painting particularly highly. His own understanding of and painting through the formal issues of modernist figure composition seem to me, absolutely without peer in his generation, and on a level with his immediate predecessors, Balthus and Helion. His taste was impeccable, and his position regarding such issues as the use of the past, the rhythm of the brush throughout the canvas, color and value, seem to me exemplary. So he seems a very good model for younger artists. So does his life, in which he struggled with his talent and improved, enriched and fulfilled his work over a period of thirty or forty years.
But, do get it straight. I accept ALL of the fulfilled work done in ANY extension of modernist figuration into the present. Not just my students, or Leland's students, or the people from the Studio school. I believe that you all, should do that too.
That is one reason why, when I fell on the Midwest Paint Group it excited me so much, and made me so happy.