Thursday, December 13, 2018

Paul Rosenberg, Art Dealer

My Grandfather's Gallery by Anne Sinclair.
Yesterday I wrote about Paris art dealer and art critic D.H.Kahnweiler (1884-1979) -- I read about him in An Artful Life by Pierre Assouline. Kanhweiler's visionary recognition and promotion of several artists before World War I helped make the cubist movement famous; his friendship with many artists, particularly Picasso, lasted throughout his long life. (Yesterday's post: D.H.Kahnweiler, Art Dealer.)

To follow up this reading, I chose a biography of one of Kahnweiler's main rivals, art dealer Paul Rosenberg (1881-1959). My Grandfather's Gallery: A Family Memoir of Art and War by Anne Sinclair, was published as 21 rue La Boétie in French in 2012, and in English in 2014.

Paul Rosenberg, Sinclair's grandfather, took over many of the artists that Kahnweiler had represented before going into exile from France during World War I. After the war Rosenberg's brother, Léonce Rosenberg, had wronged Kahnweiler by helping the state auction off Kahnweiler's paintings, thus pushing more artists to sign with Paul. In particular, Paul Rosenberg represented Picasso from the 1920s through World War II, after which Picasso returned to Kahnweiler.

A Picasso sketch of Paul Rosenberg, 1919. (source)
In yesterday's post, I commented that biographer Assouline spent little time describing the horrendous persecution and murder of the Jews of Nazi-occupied Paris, where both Kahnweiler and Rosenberg had their galleries. Both men were victims of German anti-Jewish policies, which were abetted by French collaborators. Assouline's text barely covered how fleeing or deported Jewish citizens had their homes, bank vaults, and businesses looted by German troops, French police, or even their neighbors. Art collections or other valuables that belonged to Jews were confiscated and sent to Germany, or sold to make money for the Nazi war effort. Above all, Assouline barely mentioned the deportation of 76,000 Jews from France to Auschwitz, including 11,000 children, of whom at most 2500 survived. (Statistics here.)

My Grandfather's Gallery is just the opposite: Sinclair's principal theme is the horror of the war and of the lethal persecution of Jews and others, and she describes how these horrors affected her grandfather, grandmother, parents, brother, and their peers. In fact, Sinclair's grandparents, her parents, and her uncle (who fought in the French Resistance) were among a small minority who escaped. They fled from Paris through rural France and through Spain and Portugal to New York, with the extraordinary help of Alfred Barr, head of the New York Museum of Modern Art.

Sinclair herself was born in New York in 1948. Her parents returned to France shortly after her birth, and thus she was brought up and educated entirely in France, and considered herself entirely French. Although she was aware of her grandfather's accomplishments as an art dealer, as a young woman Sinclair was determined to lead a life independent of her family's privilege. In fact, she achieved fame as a political journalist and the host of an extraordinarily popular and insightful French TV news and interview show called "7/7" which aired every Sunday night from 1984 until 1997. The experiences of her family simply never interested her until a few years ago, when she decided to look into their history as available to her in family archives and the existing historical record.

Like many children who didn't listen to their parents' stories, Sinclair expresses many regrets for the way she dismissed her parents' accounts of their lives. Her research and this book are an attempt to make up for her earlier neglect. Since writing it, she's also participated in art exhibits about the Paul Rosenberg collections, which are now dispersed in many museums: see this article from 2016: "Paintings That Bear the Scars of War."

In My Grandfather's Gallery, Sinclair documents how her grandfather was able to transfer artworks from his gallery to New York, to found a gallery there, and to live quite well during the war with his family. She describes her early memories of their opulent New York apartment and the art gallery, where she often visited after her family re-established residence in Paris. She details her grandfather's reputation as an art dealer and discerning collector, his large holdings of art works from the early 20th century, and the family's art donations to many great museums in Europe and in the United States.

After the defeat of the Nazis, Paul Rosenberg spent a great deal of effort to have his property restored. He knew how fortunate he had been compared to the majority of his fellow Jews and other persecuted victims of the Nazis -- in 1945, he wrote:
"We recovered some paintings looted by the Germans, or by dishonest Frenchmen. But I am not going to complain, it's as nothing when you look at the horrors that the Nazis inflicted on human beings of all races, creeds, and colors." (p. 209)
Picasso's 1918 Portrait of Madame Paul Rosenberg and her daughter; that is, the mother and
grandmother of Anne Sinclair. The Nazis stole this painting for the collection of Hermann Göring.
Paul Rosenberg recovered it after the war; later, Anne Sinclair donated it to the Musée Picasso in Paris.


Pam said...

Sounds like a good book about the Parisian art scene and Sinclair's family history. I knew about the art thefts by the Nazi's but it would be interesting to read about it from Sinclair's point of view and about her famous grandfather being a friend of Picasso. Good review, Mae! Off to Amazon again...

kwarkito said...

two wonderful reviews of the biographies of these two great collectors. I enjoyed Anne Sinclair's book, very elegantly written.

Linda said...

Interesting Picasso. That's a chubby baby!

Jeanie said...

This sounds fascinating, Mae. I'm behind on reading blogs (and books) but this one looks like something I would really appreciate. Thank you. I may well be adding this to my list. In fact, no "may" about it!