Taking Exception

NEW YORK -- Paris in the late Forties and early Fifties might have lost its Lost Generation, but it was still a good place to be a young American -- and it was a particularly good time to be James Lord.Lord, now 71, equipped then with little...

This is hardly the only strong stand he takes. In "Six Exceptional Women," Lord is particularly unsparing in describing the last years of Alice B. Toklas, who outlived her companion Gertrude Stein by two decades.

Toklas, he alleges, was cavalierly and cruelly treated by Stein's heirs, who managed by legal maneuverings to strip her of Stein's extraordinary art collection and leave her penniless.

"It was their monetary worth that interested the heirs, it wasn't [the paintings'] esthetic value," says Lord. "I hope the Stein heirs who read the chapter writhe in shame when they do."

Asked about who he finds interesting in Paris today, he praises Lilianne de Rothschild, "the wife of Elie; she's extremely intelligent and a very lively, interesting person and enjoys the company of writers," but insists no one in Paris today really has a salon.

Marie-Laure de Noailles, though, certainly did.

"Her house was stupendous," Lord says, "more stupendous than any Rothschild's. The accumulation of treasures; the opulence, the daring, the mixture of things...In her bedroom, it was completely Louis XV walnut boiserie. There were paintings by Cranach and Picasso, drawings by Ingres and Delacroix, but one wall was entirely given over to little knickknacks, hammered into the beautiful boiserie with thumbtack and nails. It was very amusing.

"At the David-Weills, for example, everything is perfect -- every single thing. There isn't much life there; it's all too perfect."

Lord seems to take pleasure in puncturing other reputations he considers inflated. "People have made a great fuss over Francis Bacon," he says. "He was an absolutely charming, delightful and very funny person, but I never thought that he was a great artist. I think there was something too calculated in his work. I also felt he was an extraordinarily indifferent colorist. Picasso was shocking, profoundly shocking in a way that Bacon never was. His cruelty, his perversity, his violence -- all that comes through in his paintings. Francis was basically a very nice person. He could be quite nice, whereas Picasso behaved really abominably at times and caused other human beings great suffering."
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