Monday, August 3, 2015

My Grandfather’s Gallery: A Family Memoir of Art and War by Anne Sinclair 2014

"...[Sinclair] tells the story of her grandfather’s life thematically, reassembling it from several vantage points. And in telling that tale she also recounts her own discovery of a part of her heritage she previously had chosen to ignore." from a review by Judy Bolton-Fasman in the Boston Globe 10/11/14

Anne Sinclair’s maternal grandfather, Paul Rosenberg, was a major Parisian art dealer before and after World War II. Like other Jewish owners of objects of value, his art work was both “officially” confiscated by the Nazis as well as looted. Many of the artists Rosenberg represented were creators of what Hitler called "degenerate art." Sinclair writes this memoir to explain who her grandfather was, what happened to the art he owned during the war, and how he and other family members went about trying to retrieve it.

Sinclair understands the delicate nature of her undertaking, She makes the important point that what happened to her family pales in comparison to what happened to others who lost their lives.  Her well-connected, large extended family managed to get passports and visas out of the country. Alfred Barr of the Museum of Modern Art in New York sponsored Paul Rosenberg’s immigration to the U.S. Rosenberg fled with his family through Spain to Portugal, to New York City where he established another art gallery.

Much of this memoir has to do with Rosenberg’s relationships to the artists he nurtured and promoted– most prominently Picasso. The author explains how he worked with his artists, often buying paintings outright so that the artists had more or less steady income. When the family felt they needed to leave France, he hid his art in safe deposit boxes and in homes in the countryside where he had been living before they fled. He had already sent some art to England and to the U.S. for safe-keeping.

The story Sinclair tells about finding and retrieving the art after the war is sadly familiar. Much of it on the continent was gone. Investigations revealed that many businessmen collaborated with the Nazis and many of them went unpunished. Stolen art changed hands, landed in private collections and museums and no one seemed to care. After much inquiring and searching on the family’s part they retrieved all but about 60 of 400 paintings, many of which the family has since donated to museums. Sinclair is particularly fond of a work painted by Picasso in 1918 of her grandmother with her mother sitting on her lap which now hangs at the Musee Picasso in France.

Author’s mother/s family
Alexandre Rosenberg – married Mathilde Jellinek
     Paul Rosenberg – son of Alexandre and Mathilde; married Marguerite Loevi
          Micheline Rosenberg – daughter of Paul and Marguerite; married Robert Schwartz (Sinclair)
                Anne Rosenberg – daughter of Micheline and Robert
          Alexandre Rosenberg – son of Paul and Marguerite; married Elaine
                Elisabeth and Marianne Rosenberg – daughters of Alexandre and Elaine
     Leonce Rosenberg – son of Alexandre and Mathilde
          Lucienne Rosenberg – daughter of Leonce

Jacques Helft – Paul Rosenberg’s brother-in-law; exact relationship unclear
Michel, Marianne, and Madeleine Loevi - siblings of Marguerite

Friends and Acquaintances
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler
Georges Wildenstein
Gilbert Levy

To read an article in the New York Times about the Post War effort to retrieve the art, click here.
To read an article about an on-going saga about an art collection left after the war in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, click here.

Bratislava, Slovakia
Paris, France
21 rue La Boetie
Drancy, Paris
New York City, New York