“Why was I not told about him? And why is there nothing left in our family today?”
Copyright Pauline Baer de Perignon
How did " La collection disparue " start?
Pauline Baer de Perignon: the search started one day with the meeting of a cousin I didn't know well and who mentioned my great-grandfather's collection… It was during a concert of Brazilian music, he said to me : " our grandfather Jules Strauss, it's strange, his collection disappeared in curious conditions. Maybe it was the Nazis. " That marked the beginning of an investigation for me and I started to research for the collection. It was both to reconstruct a collection I knew nothing about, and at the same time to understand why there was nothing left in the family. Who was Jules Strauss I knew so little about? He was a great collector, he seemed to be a fascinating man, he died in 1943. At that time, I knew nothing about him. Why was I not told about him? And why is there nothing left in our family today? This family, historical and artistic research lasted three years before I started thinking: "It's fantastic what I'm discovering, I have to tell about it".
From then on, I took all my very messy notes in little notebooks, with all the references of the files I had found, and I tried to make clear chapters.
Who is Jules Strauss?
He was a great collector. He is my paternal great-grandfather who was born in Germany in 1861 in Frankfurt, in the middle of the Jewish bourgeoisie. Coming from a family of very Francophile bankers, he came to Paris alone at the age of 20, still working in banking, and he slowly started an art collection. He started buying works from the 17th/18th century, but also Impressionists. He must have been in the third wave of Impressionist buyers, i.e. Renoir, Monet were still alive. He started to build up his collection. In 1909 he made a first sale of all his impressionist paintings, including 20 Sisley. Perhaps to renew himself. Then he continued his collection. What I can say about what type of collector he was, there is a term that I like, which was used by Nicolas Landau the great antique dealer, which is: "horizontal collector as opposed to vertical collector". That is to say, he was someone who was interested in many things in many fields and who didn't have a single specialty, who liked curiosity, and was a bit of a model of taste. People used to say: "Strauss taste", I think that he influenced many collectors. He was also quite representative of the taste of a period like the Camondo's, for example, probably more magnificent.
How many paintings were stolen and how many have you found?
It's not that simple as we don't know how many paintings were stolen. I must reconstitute his collection with the precious notebooks.
He died in '43. All we know is that he had to secure all his furniture and some works of art, but we don't know exactly which ones were taken by the Nazis in '42.
To give you two examples of what happened more or less: The drawing of Tiepolo for example, which we recovered in 2017 which was in the MNR of the Louvre, was not marked as in the Jules Strauss chest, but was found in an antique dealer who sold it to a buyer of Hitler for the museum in Linz.
My great-grandfather was expelled twice from his home, his flat was requisitioned by a Nazi called Kurt molasse, Avenue Foch, and then the second place he lived in was occupied by the ERR.
My research work is to take up each painting, each provenance and study it.
What are the obstacles to provenance? Was it easy?
The obstacle to research is precisely that we don't know exactly what was taken, and my family didn't tell me about it, so it's not very easy and it's very long.
Because sometimes there are what we call too many sources, between 38 and 46. Then, once we find it, we must gather all the evidence.
When it is by MNR, we know that the museum is looking for the owner, then they necessarily know that he was spoliated, there is no doubt because it was recovered in Germany and entered the MNR. The difficulty lies in proving that Jules Strauss was indeed the last owner of the work.
The difficulty is that it is up to the families to gather the evidence. That's the biggest difficulty.
The German museums were very cooperative on provenance research, but I still felt that it was difficult for them to return this work, which was a major work of the 18th century. It was very difficult, but they accepted it willingly and once all the evidence was gathered, it didn't go so badly. It took four years, but it was done.
Finding about Jules Strauss is it a way of re conciliating with the past?
It's true that it's very heavy, especially discovering that he must have suffered during the war but in fact it's good to know the truth, I think.
Pauline thank you!