French Journalist Anne Sinclair: A Life Touched by Art, Magic and Scandal
Prominent French journalist Anne Sinclair was most recently in the headlines because of her husband, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. In a SPIEGEL interview, she discusses the scandal, her "magical" childhood in New York, and hobnobbing with the famous artists her grandfather represented.
Sinclair is the granddaughter of Paul Rosenberg (1881 to 1959), who earned a place in art history as a dealer, collector and discoverer. In 1940, the war forced Rosenberg and his Jewish family to flee Paris to the United States. The Nazis stole hundreds of paintings that Rosenberg was forced to leave behind. Sinclair, born in New York in 1948, was one of France's most popular TV journalists. She has been married to politician and former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn since 1991, but the couple separated last year. The German-language edition of her family history will be published on Feb. 12.
SPIEGEL: Madame Sinclair, in France, you are a television personality that everyone knows. You are also the wife of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was brought down by a sex and legal scandal in New York less than two years ago. Now you are publishing a book in which you retrace the steps of your grandfather, who fled to New York in 1940. Isn't it a bitter irony that a dramatic circle in your family history is now being brought to a close?
Sinclair: I started the book about my grandfather in 2010, before that painful episode in New York descended upon me. I had intended to publish it in the fall of 2011. When I began writing the book, I didn't know how far away it would take me.
SPIEGEL: In May 2011, your husband, then the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a potential French presidential candidate for the Socialists, was arrested after boarding a plane and charged with raping a hotel maid.
Sinclair: It was a strange and unreal sensation to return to New York under these circumstances. Because of painful circumstances, I saw myself forced, once again, to live in the city where I was born and in which I spent part of my childhood, as a prisoner of America, in a manner of speaking. This is certainly a different story than that of my grandfather.
SPIEGEL: But also a dramatic tale of suffering and a painful ordeal, like that of someone who has been persecuted?
Sinclair: I wasn't prepared for the fact that these sides of my memory, which began in France, would end with a sad, forced stay in the United States. Nor was I ready for the collision of images from the past with the chaos of reality. I suddenly found myself in a completely different environment than the city of my youth. New York was the city that had seemed magical to me as a child -- vacations, Christmas, snow in Central Park, skipping school. And now, at the time of the events you mentioned, it was suddenly synonymous with violence and injustice for me and my loved ones. But I've gotten past that now.
SPIEGEL: For your grandfather, on the other hand, it was a refuge in 1940 and a place that offered protection from injustice.
Sinclair: With my book, I wanted to travel back and forth between the past and the present. Now the trip was moving back and forth from New York to New York. It's not the city's fault. Should I be angry with the country and the city that allowed my grandparents to regain their dignity because I had to endure a horrible three months there when my own dignity was put to the test?
SPIEGEL: Did the confrontation with the past become a form of catharsis? Why did you hesitate for so long to tell your family story?
Sinclair: I just didn't think of it. I knew, of course, that my grandfather was an important discoverer, a talented collector and an art expert, the impresario of such outstanding painters as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Fernand Léger. But that wasn't my world. I was interested in politics, journalism and the real world of the present, not that of the paintings, even though I had grown up with it. I didn't want to insert myself into this base family milieu.
SPIEGEL: As someone who inherited a family tradition that can also be a burden, were you trying to liberate yourself from the past?
Sinclair: A great tradition can make the succeeding generations seem very insignificant. I was absolutely determined to lead my own life.
SPIEGEL: You would have had good reason to be proud of your family. Unlike the children of collaborators, you didn't have to pit yourself against the shadows of the past.
Sinclair: Nevertheless, a certain sense of embarrassment held me back. I didn't see my life as that of an heiress. Most of my grandfather's art collection was liquidated or had disappeared. I don't own any hidden treasures. In addition, the word "dealer" bothered me for a long time. It seemed somehow disreputable and triggered dirty associations.
SPIEGEL: The image of a dealer you had in your mind was that of someone who bought the works of poor, unappreciated artists for little money and then sold them at a large profit?
Sinclair: The idea was suspect to me. If my grandfather had sold wheat or sardines in oil, it wouldn't have felt so repugnant to me. But when I was young, the notion of making a fortune with pieces of art, rare and beautiful things, seemed as diabolical to me as a banker speculating today.
SPIEGEL: What prompted you to revisit your roots?
Sinclair: Well, the maturity of age, I suppose. When you've passed 60, you can be overcome by the need to take a look back. After my mother, Micheline, died five years ago, at a certain point, I started looking through her things, including papers, letters and photo albums. They were relics of a lost world. After 1940, she worked as the general secretary of France Forever, an organization that sought to engender sympathy among Americans for the Résistance and Free France. She had kept all the written documents, as well as a photo of General de Gaulle, with a dedication.
SPIEGEL: That moved you?
Sinclair: And it also aroused a guilty conscience. As a child, I was always on my father's side, emotionally speaking. He was a true hero of the Résistance. I owe him my name. His real name was Robert Schwartz. But because the German occupiers knew the last names of the French officers and soldiers who fought with de Gaulle in exile, he had to change his name to protect his family members still living in France. He wanted to keep the same initials, so he opened the New York telephone book at the letter S and found the name Sinclair.
SPIEGEL: Which also sounds good in France and doesn't sound Jewish at all. Was he so proud of his work in the Résistance that he kept this assumed name after the war?
Sinclair: Yes, but after the experiences he had had, and given the impact of the Holocaust, he probably wanted to spare his descendants the dangers that a Jewish name had brought to his family. I was a little upset with him because I've always perceived the name change as a rejection of sorts. The original version of my birth certificate reads: Anne-Elise Schwartz, née Sinclair.
SPIEGEL: Then you embarked on a search for this grandfather, who had been the most important art dealer in Paris and Europe between the two world wars.
Sinclair: Marie Laurencin, the muse of the poet Apollinaire, was the first painter with whom he signed an exclusive contract in 1913. Picasso was added in 1918, Braque in 1923, Léger in 1926 and Matisse in 1936. The Galerie Rosenberg at Rue La Boétie 21, which my grandfather had opened in 1910, was the go-to place for all those interested in the development and work of the innovators. The contemporary painters were displayed on the ground floor and the older painters above. Visitors who had no use for Braque or Léger were asked upstairs, where Degas, Renoir and Monet were exhibited.
SPIEGEL: Why was he so sure of his aesthetic and artistic instinct?
Sinclair: My mother and grandparents told me that he hadn't sold a single Picasso until 1925. The first Picasso exhibition at the Galerie Rosenberg took place in 1919, and consisted of 167 drawings. People laughed. They pointed at the scribbled drawings and scoffed at them. Some critics also reacted with incomprehension, even with hostility, raving against what they called painting from the madhouse. "Degenerate art" wasn't just a German term.
SPIEGEL: Your grandfather avoided works of so-called "degenerate art," which the Nazis offered for sale on the world market, especially in Switzerland. As president of the French art dealers' association, he even tried to organize a boycott against this sell-off.
Sinclair: Without success, because this business with the Nazis was very lucrative. Of course, my grandfather's receptiveness to modern art had its limits. For instance, he didn't like the surrealists at all. Salvador Dalí once approached him in a restaurant and asked if Galerie Rosenberg would represent him. My grandfather spurned him, saying that there was no room for clowns in his gallery. He wouldn't have liked the modern Americans after the war, or Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, not to mention Andy Warhol. At the time, popular taste lagged behind the avant-garde. The opposite is true today. People jump on anything that looks like avant-garde art, out of fear that they'll be too late to the game.
- Part 1: A Life Touched by Art, Magic and Scandal
- Part 2: 'Dear Pic, Dear Rosi'
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