“This enchanting city became like a prison.” Anne Sinclaire speaks with ease of the case that placed her, against her will, under the media spotlight in New York in May 2011 after the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. She associated New York, her hometown, with delicious childhood memories – “Christmas”, “sledding in Central Park”, “hot chocolate”, “FAO Schwartz toys” – but here is also where she appeared as the betrayed wife, alongside her husband in the storm. But “this little story”, as she euphemistically puts it today, is “behind me.”
Since this “violent time”, Anne Sinclair has returned to New York often – discretely. Her aunt, who at 93 years old is “still as fit as a fiddle”, and her two Franco-American cousins still live here. Her duties as head of the French Huffington Post also lead her here.
She returns once again on September 23 to New York University, as an author to talk about her grandfather, Paul Rosenberg. The biography she has dedicated to him, 21, rue La Boétie – the address of the gallery he owned in Paris before World War II, comes out in the US as My Grandfather’s Gallery: A Family Memoir of Art.
Grateful to the United States”
“It isn’t a history book, or an art book. It’s a tribute to my grandfather. He was someone discrete enough all throughout his life to never promote himself. I wanted to make him known to Americans.” At the beginning of the 21st century Paul Rosenberg was one of the most reputable art collectors of France and the biggest modern art promoter. His gallery united Titans such as Braque, Matisse, and Picasso, the latter to whom he was close. Anne Sinclair tells in her book that the two men, who were neighbors, would shout to each other from the windows of their apartments that looked out onto the same courtyard. Picasso would even show his works through the window to get “Paul’s” opinion.
The war shattered this gentle Parisian life. L’Institut des Etudes des Questions Juives (IEQJ), an antisemitic propaganda organization, was installed in the place of the gallery of the rue La Boétie. Placed on the blacklist because he was Jewish, Paul Rosenberg had to leave Paris. He headed towards New York like other exiles via Spain and then Portugal. “My grandparents were always grateful to Americans for having given them a safe life, for having allowed my grandfather to restart a career. My mother was quite amazed by the ease of things, a cultural difference to Europe.”
There, in the frenzy of New York, joys mingled with sufferings for Rosenberg. That suffering, for example, of losing French nationality by the Vichy government (the French government that collaborated with the Nazis during their occupation of France) – “a terrible injury.” The joy was of being able to reopen a gallery, on 59th street – “There’s a big Nike store now”, Anne Sinclair points out – there’s another on 79th street in a building that has stayed in the family.
Paul Rosenberg did not arrive in New York in completely unknown territory. He was a friend of Alfred Barr, the legendary director of the MoMA, with whom he organized the first American retrospective of Pablo Picasso in 1939, with paintings donated to the New York museum, so the Nazis could not get hold of them. Rosenberg also promoted modern art in Chicago, New York, and “even Kansas City” in the 20s, only to discover Americans were not ready for this kind of art. “But he did not throw in the towel. He understood early on that it was important to expose Americans to this painting.”
Anne Sinclair plunged into the past of this “pioneer of modern art”, of whom she knew so little – she was 11 when he passed away. After the death of her mother, she discovered correspondence between Paul Rosenberg and these painters, unearthed “family papers”, interviewed relatives and close ones, and retraced the footsteps of her family.
She came to New York when she lived in Washington DC with Dominique Strauss-Kahn, for research, and finished the book in the TriBeCa apartment where she was locked up with her ex-husband under the eye of journalists worldwide. “When the sixtieth anniversary came, when my mother disappeared, when the law on national identity was triggered – it stirred up memories. We are made up of many parts and there was no reason not to learn more about this grandfather I knew little of, with an infallible eye and talent.” She shares a piece of herself for the first time with the people who welcomed Paul Rosenberg “with open arms” in September 1940, it has been 74 years almost to this day. “I’m delighted to come back.”