My Grandfather’s Gallery: A Fam­i­ly Mem­oir of Art and War

Anne Sin­clair; Shaun White­side, trans.
  • Review
By – September 11, 2014

French jour­nal­ist Anne Sin­clair had nev­er been par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in her mother’s side of the fam­i­ly until a series of events — a hos­tile immi­gra­tion clerk challeng­ing the French­ness’ of her grand­par­ents, the death of her moth­er, and a notice of a plaque com­mem­o­rat­ing her grandfather’s gallery — led her to explore the life and lega­cy of her mater­nal grand­fa­ther, Paul Rosen­berg. Rosen­berg, with no arts back­ground or train­ing, had made him­self into one of Paris’s lead­ing art deal­ers in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tury. A pio­neer­ing cham­pi­on of mod­ern art, he pro­mot­ed Renoir, Matisse, Braque, Lau­rencin and many oth­ers, although his favorite was Picas­so. Imag­ine Rosen­berg in his salon at 21 rue La Boétie, sig­nal­ing across the air­shaft to his dear friend Picas­so, telling him to hold up his lat­est paint­ing so he could have a peek! All this rich cre­ative fer­ment was killed when the Nazis invad­ed France. French Jews were sent to con­cen­tra­tion camps, as Vichy col­lab­o­ra­tors loot­ed homes and gal­leries, con­fis­cat­ing or destroy­ing what art they found. For­tu­nate­ly, the Rosen­bergs had made a quick exit to New York, but after the war, Paul had the grim task of try­ing to track down and reclaim his prop­er­ty. Sin­clair lays out her sto­ry as a sort of col­lage of dis­cov­er­ies and inti­ma­cies, so in the end we read­ers know her grand­moth­er was not the total­ly pious woman she appeared to be, and we are a bit awed by how her grand­fa­ther nur­tured mod­ern art. We begin to under­stand anoth­er side to Picas­so, and then there’s so much beau­ti­ful art to exam­ine, it’s all rather mar­velous! Bib­li­og­ra­phy, illustra­tions, index, notes.

Relat­ed content:

Bet­ti­na Berch, author of the recent biog­ra­phy, From Hes­ter Street to Hol­ly­wood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezier­s­ka, teach­es part-time at the Bor­ough of Man­hat­tan Com­mu­ni­ty College.

Discussion Questions