Non­fic­tion

The House of Frag­ile Things: Jew­ish Art Col­lec­tors and the Fall of France

  • From the Publisher
September 1, 2020

In the dra­mat­ic years between 1870 and the end of World War II, a num­ber of promi­nent French Jews‚ pil­lars of an embat­tled com­mu­ni­ty‚ invest­ed their for­tunes in France’s cul­tur­al arti­facts, sac­ri­ficed their sons to the coun­try’s army, and were ulti­mate­ly reward­ed by see­ing their col­lec­tions plun­dered and their fam­i­lies deport­ed to Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps.

In The House of Frag­ile Things, James McAuley explores the cen­tral role of art in the assim­i­la­tion and iden­ti­ty of French Jews in the fin-de-siè­cle. Based on pre­vi­ous­ly unex­ploit­ed pri­vate archives, the book tells the sto­ry of an inter­con­nect­ed set of fam­i­lies, some famil­iar from the nov­els of Proust and the diaries of the Goncourts: the Camon­dos, the Roth­schilds, the Reinachs, the Cahens d’An­vers. McAuley shows how Jew­ish art col­lec­tors con­tend­ed with a pow­er­ful strain of anti­semitism between the Drey­fus Affair and the Holo­caust: they were often accused of invad­ing” France’s cul­tur­al pat­ri­mo­ny. The col­lec­tions these fam­i­lies left behind‚ many ulti­mate­ly donat­ed to the French state, were their response, trag­ic attempts to cel­e­brate a nation that lat­er betrayed them.

Discussion Questions