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My Grandfather's Gallery
Cover of My Grandfather's Gallery
My Grandfather's Gallery
A Family Memoir of Art and War
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A singular man in the history of modern art, betrayed by Vichy, is the subject of this riveting family memoir
On September 20, 1940, one of the most famous European art dealers disembarked in New York, one of hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing Vichy France. Leaving behind his beloved Paris gallery, Paul Rosenberg had managed to save his family, but his paintings—modern masterpieces by Cézanne, Monet, Sisley, and others—were not so fortunate. As he fled, dozens of works were seized by Nazi forces and the art dealer's own legacy was eradicated.
More than half a century later, Anne Sinclair uncovered a box filled with letters. "Curious in spite of myself," she writes, "I plunged into these archives, in search of the story of my family. To find out who my mother's father really was . . . a man hailed as a pioneer in the world of modern art, who then became a pariah in his own country during the Second World War. I was overcome with a desire to fit together the pieces of this French story of art and war."
Drawing on her grandfather's intimate correspondence with Picasso, Matisse, Braque, and others, Sinclair takes us on a personal journey through the life of a legendary member of the Parisian art scene in My Grandfather's Gallery. Rosenberg's story is emblematic of millions of Jews, rich and poor, whose lives were indelibly altered by World War II. Sinclair's journey to reclaim her family history paints a picture of modern art on both sides of the Atlantic between the 1920s and 1950s that reframes twentieth-century art history.

A singular man in the history of modern art, betrayed by Vichy, is the subject of this riveting family memoir
On September 20, 1940, one of the most famous European art dealers disembarked in New York, one of hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing Vichy France. Leaving behind his beloved Paris gallery, Paul Rosenberg had managed to save his family, but his paintings—modern masterpieces by Cézanne, Monet, Sisley, and others—were not so fortunate. As he fled, dozens of works were seized by Nazi forces and the art dealer's own legacy was eradicated.
More than half a century later, Anne Sinclair uncovered a box filled with letters. "Curious in spite of myself," she writes, "I plunged into these archives, in search of the story of my family. To find out who my mother's father really was . . . a man hailed as a pioneer in the world of modern art, who then became a pariah in his own country during the Second World War. I was overcome with a desire to fit together the pieces of this French story of art and war."
Drawing on her grandfather's intimate correspondence with Picasso, Matisse, Braque, and others, Sinclair takes us on a personal journey through the life of a legendary member of the Parisian art scene in My Grandfather's Gallery. Rosenberg's story is emblematic of millions of Jews, rich and poor, whose lives were indelibly altered by World War II. Sinclair's journey to reclaim her family history paints a picture of modern art on both sides of the Atlantic between the 1920s and 1950s that reframes twentieth-century art history.

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  • Copyright © 2012 by Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle

    Translation copyright © 2014 by Shaun Whiteside

    RUE LA BOÉTIE

    Number 21. I've passed by it hundreds of times. My mother liked to show me the 1930s façade with its stone arches. I'd noticed various shops on that street—ice cream, pizza—but I'd never stopped to take a closer look. Now, seventy years after my grandfather had left the premises, I wanted to see the building for myself. I couldn't imagine that three years later I would unveil a plaque on this very building that I had not yet entered.

    Today it's an office of the Veolia Environmental Services company. I call them up: "My grandparents used to live there. I'd love to take a look around, really just a look. I don't want to disturb you ... It was before the war, I'm sure there are few traces left ... Of course I understand if it's not possible." I detected the ambivalence in my own voice. It was almost as if I worried that they might actually let me in.

    They did. Why would they resist? So one Wednesday in April 2010 off I went to Veolia, to 21 rue La Boétie, where I begin my story. Touched by my curiosity and possibly a bit incredulous that it's taken me to the age of sixty to set foot in the building where my grandfather's gallery was located, my hosts graciously show me around.

    The hallway has been divided, and there are white stucco columns with Corinthian capitals, which I find a bit tasteless. Are they original? And a black-and-white damier marble floor. It's all been redesigned, modernized, the rooms, the spaces. There are spotlights affixed to the ceiling. The staircase with its old-fashioned banisters leading to the upper floors seems unchanged. Lots of Fernand Léger's and André Masson's paintings used to hang on the walls of this interior stairway, which led to my family's private apartments: the one belonging to my grandparents and their children, then the one to my great-grandmother, Paul's mother, Mathilde Rosenberg. Of course no paintings now hang in this stairway, which leads to various offices. The overall impression is dreary. Yet the elevator is modern, surely in compliance with health and safety regulations. The rattling old cage of another age is gone.

    The stairway within the gallery, the one with the cast-iron banister, seems to have retained its original look, from the 1930s, when my grandfather did some elaborate renovations. The floor is patterned with marble mosaics made with yellow stones. But there's no way of telling exactly where the mosaic plaques went, the ones designed by Georges Braque, who also supervised their installation. Above the stairs were arches, replicas of the ones outside, adorned with pieces of mirrored glass.

    I'm in the lower of the two exhibition halls, the one that appears in so many of the photographs I've seen of my grandfather situated in his domain. All the exhibitions at rue La Boétie were held in this large room. A month of Braque, another of Henri Matisse, a third of Pablo Picasso. It is now a boardroom for Veolia executives. The fine oak parquet floor is still there, and I immediately recognize the wood paneling, which I've seen in the photographs, as well as the glass ceiling with its little star-shaped windows, which, as in other galleries of the time, diffused the light so as to soften the hard edges of cubist painting.

    If I half closed my eyes I could see them, those big paintings from the 1920s and 1930s, hanging on the walls. Soon after, those masterpieces would be replaced by portraits of the head of the Vichy government, Marshal Philippe Pétain.

    * * *

    In 1927 E. Tériade, a famous critic and art publisher of Greek descent, described the Galerie Rosenberg in "Feuilles...

About the Author-
  • Anne Sinclair is Paul Rosenberg's granddaughter and France's best-known journalist. For thirteen years she was the host of 7 sur 7, a weekly news and politics television series that had some of the highest ratings in France. While there she interviewed all the major global figures of the day, including Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Madonna. The director of French Huffington Post, Sinclair has written two bestselling books on politics. Until 2012 she was married to Dominique Strauss-Khan.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 14, 2014
    In this splendid memoir, journalist Sinclair, director of the French Huffington Post, explores a chapter of her family history colored by Vichy France and Nazi theft. From his elegant gallery at 21 rue La Boétie, Sinclair’s grandfather, Paul Rosenberg, became an apostle of modern art, tactfully promoting work by Lauren­cin, Matisse, Braque, Léger, and Picasso. (In 1939, Rosenberg helped organize Picasso’s first American retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.) Forced to flee France for New York in 1940 (with assistance from MoMA director Alfred Barr), Rosenberg’s Paris gallery was overtaken by the Germans, its collection seized and dispersed, and the building converted into the Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question. Drifting back and forth in time, Sinclair’s narrative presents a complex picture of a sharp-eyed, industrious, and melancholy man. Some of the most vivid moments are devoted to Rosenberg’s personal and professional relationship with Picasso. The agreement between the two provided “Pic” (as Rosenberg affectionately called him) security and support while he advanced beyond Cubism. Long reluctant to engage the Rosenberg story, Sinclair calls attention to the difficulties of searching out the past and of grappling with what is found there. Agent: Michael Carlisle, Inkwell Management.

  • Kirkus

    July 1, 2014
    French TV journalist Sinclair carefully accesses a wealth of family archives in her study of the biggest art dealer in Europe until World War II, her grandfather Paul Rosenberg (1881-1951).Rosenberg and his brother, Leonce, owned separate Parisian galleries; Paul concentrated on 19th-century French painters while his brother saw cubism as the culmination of all painting. It was Leonce who spotted the newest modern artists-in particular, Pablo Picasso. Eventually, in 1918, Paul took over as Picasso's agent. Rosenberg and Picasso were inseparable, Paul effectively orchestrating Picasso's career while Picasso established Paul's reputation. He hedged his bets by carrying traditional art in his gallery separate from his exclusive relationships with Picasso, Braque, Matisse and others. The author uses her grandfather's correspondence to paste together the story of their flight from Paris and the loss of more than 400 works of art to the Nazis when they took over his gallery. The building became the Gestapo-run Institute for the Study of Jewish and Ethno-Racial Questions; classical art was sequestered for "safe keeping" while the "degenerate" art of the modernists ("any art that...departed from the canon of what the Nazis considered traditional") was sold or burned. Sinclair's grandfather vociferously opposed the Nazi auction of the modern art, realizing that any profit the Reich received would "fall back on our heads [as] bombs." The Rosenbergs fled to New York in 1940, and Paul remained in the forefront of the art world until his return to Paris and the fight to recover his artwork.The book shows the birth of modern art midwifed by a man we'd like to know better. Did Sinclair feel a need to protect some family history? Even so, she offers an intriguing window into the art scene of the early to mid-1900s.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    September 1, 2014
    Sinclair profiles her maternal grandfather, Paul Rosenberg, a prominent French art dealer whose clients were some of Europe's key modern artists: Gauguin, Matisse, Rodin, van Gogh, Renoir, and Picasso. The Rosenbergs were lucky to flee occupied France to America, but while they were absent, Rosenberg's gallery was raided and the paintings confiscated by the Reich authorities as part of a systematic looting of Jewish dealers and the art of wealthy familiesunder the Reich, modernist art was considered degenerate art. Sinclair pieces together her grandfather's journey through her own memories and Rosenberg's letters to artists and friends, uncovered in recently discovered archives (most entertaining is his correspondence with Picasso). Readers interested in WWII and art under fascism will find this a fascinating read. Sinclair's memoir contextualizes yet another aspect of this tumultuous time, though the narrative is somewhat disjointed; those looking for eloquence will find it in short supply.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • The Spectator (UK)

    "My Grandfather's Gallery paints a vivid portrait of a moment of exceptional brilliance in French artistic life...the speed and greed with which it was so brutally destroyed, and the efficiency with which these deeds of destruction were covered up and forgotten."

  • Sue Roe, The Guardian (UK) "More memoir than biography, this book's fascination comes from the feeling that the reader is discreetly looking on, brought up close to the author's own emotional experience as she roams back and forth across time...like a set of wistful glimpses, meticulously analysed, into a past that emerges as truly another country."
  • Publishers Weekly "[A] splendid memoir...Sinclair calls attention to the difficulties of searching out the past and of grappling with what is found there."
  • Booklist "Readers interested in WWII and art under fascism will find this a fascinating read. Sinclair's memoir contextualizes yet another aspect of this tumultuous time."
  • Kirkus Reviews "An intriguing window into the art scene of the early to mid-1900s."
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