Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jonathan Petropoulos

Jonathan Petropoulos is John V. Croul Professor of European History, Claremont McKenna College, and author of several books on culture in the Third Reich. He is former Research Director for Art and Cultural Property, Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States.

His new book is Artists Under Hitler: Collaboration and Survival in Nazi Germany.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Petropoulos's reply:
I just finished one book, Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam, and am half way through Anne Sinclair’s My Grandfather’s Gallery. The former is by my favorite writer, whom I admire for his nuanced prose, his character development, and perhaps most of all, for his ability to master specific professions. In Amsterdam, he puts himself inside the heads of a musician (a composer) and a journalist. McEwan has brilliant things to say about the creative process—how artists push themselves and sacrifice in order to achieve something great—and his journalist character also takes up the issue of balancing professional accomplishment with the pressures of the “real world.” McEwan is also always good for an astonishing ending. In this case, he ties together many loose threads. I should have seen it coming, but he still got me.

Anne Sinclair has written an elegant and engaging memoir about her grandfather, the hugely important Parisian art dealer Paul Rosenberg (who was also a victim of Nazi plundering). I like the way she takes a first person approach and writes herself into the story (which includes one of discovery, as she tries to understand her grandfather). She does a masterful job evoking life on the rue La Bo├ętie—with Picasso living next door for a while—and I found her comments about contemporary France (including the issues regarding xenophobia and anti-Semitism) to be insightful. She gets some of the cultural history of Nazi Germany wrong (there were no works by French artists in the Degenerate Art Exhibition and, as I show in Artists Under Hitler, modern artists continued to work in the Third Reich), but her portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most important art dealers is both illuminating and touching.
Learn more about Artists Under Hitler at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue