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.
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.