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TRUSTED EYE by Claudia Fontaine Chidester


Post-World War II Adventures of a Fearless Art Advocate

by Claudia Fontaine Chidester

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-9888358-2-5
Publisher: Fontaine Archive

A biography of Virginia Fontaine, a key player in the German art scene following World War II.

Virginia “Ginny” Fontaine nee Hammersmith was born in 1915 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was encouraged to take a passionate interest in art by her paternal grandfather, Paul Hammersmith, a “well-known etcher of Wisconsin landscapes” and founder of an engraving company. Fontaine eventually matriculated to the Yale School of Fine Arts but never earned a degree; there she met her future husband, Paul Fontaine, a painter, and resigned herself to giving up painting herself. She never gave up her love of art, however, a lifelong obsession. Fontaine married Paul in 1940. In 1942, he was drafted into the Army and was sent to Frankfurt, Germany, a city destroyed by the war and under Allied occupation. Fontaine joined him, and she quickly became active collaborating with the Jewish underground helping Jews resettle in Israel and then as a central figure in the German art world. Fontaine helped scores of artists languishing under an occupation that made selling and exhibiting art exceedingly difficult. Chidester, Fontaine’s daughter, focuses her study on Fontaine’s years in Germany but also touches on her struggles to balance work and motherhood, the assistance she gave to those persecuted by “rabid anticommunists,” and her personal battle with alcoholism. A vivid recollection of Fontaine’s fascinating life emerges—one that the author allows to be conveyed largely through Fontaine’s letters, a strategy that provides her with a measure of objectivity despite her obvious love and admiration for the subject. As Ann Reynolds aptly puts it in her foreword: “Her book, then, is not a memoir; it is a biography that subtly frames primary documents so that Virginia Fontaine’s voice draws the threads of her own life together to tell a history that we all need to hear.” Moreover, the book is brimming with beautiful photographs of both people and artwork.

A thoughtful biography of an important figure in art history, handsomely adorned with photographs.