VERVE. The Ultimate Review of Art and Literature (1937-1960)
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The 50th anniversary of the first appearance of Verve is being celebrated with no more than minimal delay in a book called ''Verve: The Ultimate Review of Art and Literature.'' Edited by Michel Anthonioz, it is published in an English version by Harry N. Abrams at. By using the original first cover.
With covers by Matisse, Braque, Bonnard and Rouault and special issues devoted to Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Bonnard and Chagall, Verve hewed to what today seems a consistently safe line. But we have to remember that 50 years ago those painters had by no means the mandatory importance that they came to have later.
But Verve was not simply a magazine that put the best possible face on the senior masters of the School of Paris. It was powered in its earlier years by a wild range of editorial fancy that came as a continual suprise to most readers. There was no knowing what would come next - a 16th-century doll from the Himalayas, a bust of Louis XIV by Houdon, an essay on ''Fire'' by John dos Passos, an essay on the sculptor Henri Laurens by his colleague Alberto Giacometti, a detail from Giotto's ''St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata'' in gold and color photogravure, a daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe by the American photographer Matthew Brady, an illustrated account by Fernand Leger of the Paris Exposition of 1937, a still life by the 17th-century Spanish painter Sanchez Cotan or an early extract from Andre Malraux's ''Psychology of Art.''
James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway were early contributors, and the still young Jean-Paul Sartre made his debut as a writer on food (Neapolitan cuisine, to be precise). Matisse and Bonnard spoke off the cuff to Verve about whatever was on their minds; John Rewald allowed Verve to publish some letters from the young Cezanne to Emile Zola. Meyer Schapiro introduced Chagall's illustrations to the Bible, and in the 1950's the English novelist and reporter Rebecca West was invited - not with the happiest of results - to write on both Braque and Picasso.
When the worst scenario turned out to be true, and the German armies overran France in 1940, Verve did not refer to it directly. The cover of the issue dated ''Summer 1940'' was once again by Henri Matisse, and once again Matisse made color and form dance for him as they danced for no one else. (Twenty-six print runs were needed to get the colors right, by the way.) But what distinguished that cover was the sumptuous funerary black of the ground on which those colored shapes danced. Unique in Matisse's output was the predominance of that grief-laden and premonitory black.
A one-man publication in its every detail, Verve owed everything to its publisher and editor, E. Teriade. Once again, Teriade was not a star editor in our contemporary mold. But even in a Paris that prized individuality and knew how to cherish it, Teriade stood out. Greek by birth, and the nursling of a cosmopolitan, many-tongued circle in Mytilene, Teriade was born Efstratios Eleftheriades in 1897. From that thicket of consonants, and from his native city, he escaped as soon as he could and arrived in Paris in 1915 as E. Teriade.