Stolen Renoir: the fate of a painting and a family in wartime France (4/2/21)

Friday, April 2, 2021
9:00 am Pacific /10:00am Mountain / 11:00am Central / 12:00pm Eastern/ 6:00pm Paris
Federation of Alliances Françaises USA
In English

Join James McAuley, author of The House of Fragile Things: Jewish Art Collectors and the Fall of France, in conversation with Simon Kuper and Pamela Druckerman.

You’ve seen the painting. “La petite Irène,” which shows a young girl in profile, is one of the most impressive portraits Renoir ever made. It appeared in Godard’s famous film, Breathless, and has been reprinted on countless tote bags and refrigerator magnets around the world. But it’s also a painting with a dark history, of Nazi theft and of a Jewish family destroyed by the Holocaust.

The painting, completed in 1880, depicts Irène Cahen d’Anvers, the eldest daughter of a wealthy Parisian family that founded the Paribas bank. By the time World War II broke out, the portrait belonged to Irène’s daughter, Béatrice de Camondo. Béatrice was murdered with her husband and children in Auschwitz.

The story of this painting is the story both of wartime horrors and postwar denials. It was stolen by the Nazis, briefly passed into the collection of Hermann Goering, and was eventually returned to Paris. Irène survived the war and got it back, but what she did with it next is difficult to understand: she sold it to a well-known Nazi collaborator, who had sold war materiel to the same regime that killed her daughter.

James McAuley is European affairs columnist for The Washington Post, based in Paris. He previously spent five years covering France for the Post. He has a BA in history and literature from Harvard and a PhD in French history from Oxford. The House of Fragile Things (Yale University Press) is his first book.

This program, produced by Pandemonium U, is free to the public and is part of a series sponsored by the Federation of Alliances Françaises USA. Alliance Française and AATF members can register here to receive reminder messages and the Zoom link.