French Journalist Anne Sinclair: A Life Touched by Art, Magic and Scandal
Part 2: 'Dear Pic, Dear Rosi'
SPIEGEL: Throughout his life, Picasso was always Paul Rosenberg's idol.
Sinclair: Yes, dear Pic, as my grandfather called Picasso, and dear Rosi, the nickname Picasso gave my grandfather. The painter and the gallery owner "made" each other, as art historian Pierre Nahon has written. In the fall of 1919, Paul convinced him to move into the building next to the gallery, at No. 23. From then on, Picasso and his wife occupied two floors of the building.
Sinclair: They met in Biarritz in the summer of 1918. Picasso needed money at the time and was searching for a new dealer. Paul immediately fell for the painter's genius. He apparently saw himself as Picasso's spiritual brother. Picasso used to show him the canvas he happened to be working on through the kitchen window across the courtyard. When that happened, either Picasso went over to the gallery or my grandfather went to see Picasso. From 1918 until his death, Paul wrote 214 letters to Picasso.
SPIEGEL: Did Picasso respond?
Sinclair: Picasso rarely wrote. The few letters that he must have written were lost during the war. Paul usually wrote when he was traveling or vacationing in Deauville. Sometimes he would send a short message from neighbor to neighbor, adding: "Please respond through the window." Sometimes he complained when Picasso didn't deliver as ordered. "You went away without giving me my harlequin," he wrote. "You're horrible!"
SPIEGEL: One likes to imagine the relationship between artist and dealer as filled with tension.
Sinclair: Surprisingly little of that can be detected. In my grandfather's case, fascination was the dominant emotion. He had understood that a great artist needs material security to be able to concentrate. Old invoices show that he paid Picasso 50,000 francs for a large painting in the early years, and 12,000 for a watercolor. These amounts are practically unchanged when converted into euros today. Then, in October 1923, Picasso doubled his prices, and my grandfather had to accept it, for better or worse. He later said that he would have liked to kiss Picasso on one cheek and bite him on the other.
SPIEGEL: A strange symbiosis. The two men were completely contrasting characters.
Sinclair: Paul would sometimes order 100 pictures at a time from Picasso, like the owner of a fashion house buying his new collection. And yet he welcomed every change in style. He knew perfectly well that he was dealing with one of the greatest contemporary artists, someone who upended all the rules and constantly pushed the boundaries. I believe that this admiration also had something to do with his complexes. Paul wasn't a creative type, but he would have liked to be one.
SPIEGEL: The familiar proximity went so far that Picasso, in 1918, painted a portrait of Madame Rosenberg and her daughters, that is, of your grandmother and her mother, which the Musée Picasso in Paris now owns.
Sinclair: I gave it to the museum after my mother's death as a way of paying off the inheritance tax. You can do that in France. I could have sold it in the United States for a lot of money, but I feel that it belongs here, in Paris.
SPIEGEL: Do you have an enduring personal memory of Picasso?
Sinclair: I remember his penetrating gaze, most of all. When we visited him at his house in Mougins, I was impressed by the chaos, the paint spots on the parquet floor, the confusion -- all the things that were forbidden in our house. He used one of his paintings as a headboard for his bed. He had placed it against the wall with the canvas toward the front, and he leaned the pillows against the stretcher frame. When he sold the painting, he would simply use another one. And then there is the funny anecdote that concerns how I spoiled my chances of having Picasso paint my own portrait.
SPIEGEL: Do tell.
Sinclair: I was 14, and Picasso suggested to my mother that he paint me. "I see," he said, "that she has eyes everywhere!" I was so startled that I ran away crying, determined not to sit for that face thief. I was afraid that I would be painted "with a skewed visage," like Picasso's lover Dora Maar, whose portraits I didn't like at all. One can't say that I had inherited my grandfather's instinct for art.
SPIEGEL: Do you know why Picasso stayed in Paris during the war? After all, as an opponent of Franco, a Spanish Republican and the painter of anti-war picture "Guernica," he was in some danger.
Sinclair: They kept a close eye on him, but the Germans didn't dare do anything. Picasso hadn't compromised himself in any way, unlike Cocteau or Derain, for example. On one occasion, German men in uniform allegedly came to his studio and asked him about "Guernica." "Did you do it?" they asked. To which he responded: "No, it was you!" That's simply too good to be true. The painters who had stayed in Paris were certainly no heroes of the Résistance, but they weren't collaborators, either. Braque, at any rate, refused to design an emblem for the Vichy regime of Marshal Pétain.
SPIEGEL: The war imposed a four-year silence between your grandfather and Picasso.
Sinclair: It was difficult to re-establish their close relationship after that. After 1945, Paul only saw Picasso once a year, on the Côte d'Azur in the summer. When the war ended, Picasso resumed his relationship with Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, the other major art dealer of the interwar period, which had been interrupted in 1914. Kahnweiler then looked after Picasso until his death in 1973.
SPIEGEL: What do you have left from your grandfather's collection?
Sinclair: He had already shipped a number of paintings to London and New York before 1940, which he used as the foundation for his new gallery in Manhattan. When the family fled Europe, about 400 pictures were left behind in France and were then stolen. Of those, 60 have yet to be recovered to this day, but my grandfather was able to get back hold of the rest one after another. Contrary to all possible rumors, I have only four paintings left from my mother's estate.
SPIEGEL: Which ones are they?
Sinclair: I won't tell you that. It's private.
SPIEGEL: That would suggest that they're important works. Perhaps a cross-section of the famous Rosenberg quartet: a Picasso, a Matisse, a Braque and a Léger?
Sinclair: Give up. No one will tell you. The splendor of the collection is gone; it has diminished over time. However, one thing is true: My mother and my father, and my aunt and my uncle, were able to live very well as a result.
SPIEGEL: You also have a sizeable fortune from your grandfather's estate.
Sinclair: I have already said that I've always felt a reluctance to be defined as an heiress. My grandfather was able to live in affluence. But I believe that he remained an eternal malcontent, someone who was always pessimistic and at the mercy of existential doubts. He suffered from a guilt complex, the remorse of a person who had avoided the horrible dramas of the war in Europe. The members of that generation remained disabled from the war for the rest of their lives.
SPIEGEL: Do you have any of that tragic inner turmoil?
Sinclair: My Jewish identity is very important to me, even though I'm not particularly religious, just as my grandfather wasn't.
SPIEGEL: When you stood at the side of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York two years ago, the whole world was looking at you. Did being put on display like that trigger resentment in you, an unwillingness to accept your fate?
Sinclair: I felt captive, with my husband under house arrest and 350 journalists -- the pack of hounds at the hunt -- outside.
SPIEGEL: The case against your husband was ultimately dropped.
Sinclair: The American justice system is brutal, but when it has made a mistake, it openly admits it was wrong. The French proceed more cautiously, but the trials are never-ending. I've put it all behind me today and have dealt with the experience at all levels, both personally and collectively. Period. Over.
Sinclair: I could. But the way I just said it to you, it's merely a pirouette. I could do it, but I won't do it.
SPIEGEL: Madame Sinclair, thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Romain Leick and translated by Christopher Sultan.
- Part 1: A Life Touched by Art, Magic and Scandal
- Part 2: 'Dear Pic, Dear Rosi'
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