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THE VANISHED COLLECTION by Pauline Baer de Perignon


by Pauline Baer de Perignon ; translated by Natasha Lehrer

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-939931-98-6
Publisher: New Vessel Press

Memoir of a quest to recover artwork seized by the Nazis in occupied France.

During an unexpected encounter with her cousin Andrew Strauss, whom Baer de Perignon hadn’t seen for years, their conversation turned to the art collection owned by their great-grandfather Jules Strauss, a prominent Jewish art collector who was living in France during World War II. Andrew suggested that their great-grandfather’s collection, which included works by world-renowned impressionist artists such as Renoir, Monet, and Degas, was stolen by the Nazis rather than sold in 1932, as indicated by the auction catalog. Andrew’s comments prompted the author to begin an investigation into the life and collection of Strauss, which she knew very little about. “Andrew’s words,” she writes, “sent my mind tumbling down a rabbit hole: I couldn’t tell if the effect was pleasant, bizarre, or anxiety-inducing….The fragments of family history Andrew evoked were profoundly unsettling.” Her sleuthing soon turned into an obsession, as she spent almost every day researching museum archives and talking with the few remaining family members alive during the occupation as well as with museum curators and other art experts. She even visited a medium during her quest to learn more. Because Baer de Perignon didn’t know much about buying and selling art, despite many of her family members being in the business, her journey was even more difficult, and her questions led to even more questions. The author’s quest is undeniably intriguing, bringing to light the struggles that many Jewish families have endured—and continue to endure—in their attempts to reclaim artwork and other items taken by the Nazis. Some readers may find the often combative dynamics among the author’s family off-putting, and the prose is occasionally stilted; still, the story is memorable and often moving.

A fascinating journey to uncover lost family secrets—and treasure.