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Chasing Portraits: A Great-Granddaughter's Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy
     

Chasing Portraits: A Great-Granddaughter's Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy

by Elizabeth Rynecki
 

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The memoir of one woman’s emotional quest to find the art of her Polish-Jewish great-grandfather, lost during World War II.
 
Moshe Rynecki’s body of work reached close to eight hundred paintings and sculptures before his life came to a tragic end. It was his great-granddaughter Elizabeth who sought to rediscover his legacy,

Overview

The memoir of one woman’s emotional quest to find the art of her Polish-Jewish great-grandfather, lost during World War II.
 
Moshe Rynecki’s body of work reached close to eight hundred paintings and sculptures before his life came to a tragic end. It was his great-granddaughter Elizabeth who sought to rediscover his legacy, setting upon a journey to seek out what had been lost but never forgotten…
 
The everyday lives of the Polish-Jewish community depicted in Moshe Rynecki’s paintings simply blended into the background of Elizabeth Rynecki’s life when she was growing up. But the art transformed from familiar to extraordinary in her eyes after her grandfather, Moshe’s son George, left behind journals detailing the loss her ancestors had endured during World War II, including Moshe’s art. Knowing that her family had only found a small portion of Moshe’s art, and that many more pieces remained to be found, Elizabeth set out to find them.
 
Before Moshe was deported to the ghetto, he entrusted his work to friends who would keep it safe. After he was killed in the Majdanek concentration camp, the art was dispersed all over the world. With the help of historians, curators, and admirers of Moshe’s work, Elizabeth began the incredible and difficult task of rebuilding his collection.
 
Spanning three decades of Elizabeth’s life and three generations of her family, this touching memoir is a compelling narrative of the richness of one man’s art, the devastation of war, and one woman’s unexpected path to healing.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
08/22/2016
The author's earnest description of her search for her ancestor's lost art lacks the depth to make it speak to a larger audience. In the fall of 1939, with the Luftwaffe bombarding Warsaw, painter Moshe Rynecki (the author's great-grandfather) packed his life's work—around 800 images of Jewish life in Poland—into a half-dozen bundles to be left with friends, "until things settle down." Six years later, Moshe, the friends, and most of the pictures had disappeared. His widow managed to find one cache in a basement; after many ups and downs, it ended up in Northern California, where it inspired the author's quest. The first quarter of the book is based largely on autobiographical vignettes by Rynecki's grandfather George, previously published in 2005 as Surviving Hitler in Poland. The rest of the book follows her stumbling decades-long pursuit of Moshe's lost works. This is not a story of looted art; Moshe's work was not stolen but deserted, in a city that was almost entirely destroyed. She tries to "bring to life" through the awkward device of recreated dialogue. She clearly feels her loss, weeping at each reminder, but had she dug deeper into Warsaw's language, history, and culture, she could have brought Moshe's world to life and made the destruction of it much more affecting for the reader. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Chasing Portraits
 
“A page-turning personal history of [Elizabeth] Rynecki’s search for her great-grandfather’s legacy… A wonderful story beautifully told. Rynecki’s years-long search, successes, frustrations, and failures are a study in perseverance.”—Kirkus (starred review)

Chasing Portraits is a miraculous story of heartbreaking loss and spine-tingling discovery. In her search for her great-grandfather’s paintings, Elizabeth Rynecki becomes a genealogist, an art historian, a detective, a crusader for justice, and a time traveler, peering through windows and into paintings to unearth her family’s past. Her memoir will break your heart, but it will have you cheering wildly too because every new discovery is a triumph of art and love over hatred and loss.”—Amy Stewart, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Drunken Botanist
 
“A heartfelt, vivid account of a hunt for lost masterpieces painted by a great-grandfather that prove to be unforgettable relics of a rich world swept away by war, taking readers on a lusciously detailed international journey that reminds us that the search for missing paintings is, at heart, a search for missing history.”—Anne-Marie O’Connor, National Bestselling Author of The Lady in Gold
 
“Elizabeth Rynecki’s Chasing Portraits is part of a gathering wave of stories by the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and Holocaust victims—stories that accept the burden of carrying this legacy forward, with all the anguish, the unanswered questions, and the unexpected joy of recognition this entails. With devotion and determination, Rynecki movingly demonstrates that, even after such unimaginable loss, even seventy years later, fragments of individual lives—and so the untold stories of individuals—can still be recovered . . . if only you keep searching.”—Glenn Kurtz, Author of Three Minutes in Poland
 
“In recent years, there has been an increase in the awareness of the problem of looted and stolen art, and Chasing Portraits makes an important contribution to the field. But it’s much more than just a tale of detective work. Elizabeth Rynecki’s story is transcendent, presenting the reader with an elevated level of passion and duty. For this reason, it sets itself apart from the rest of the field.”—Anthony M. Amore, Author of Stealing Rembrandts and The Art of the Con

Library Journal
09/01/2016
This debut by Rynecki is simultaneously a family history, an exploration of Jewish art destroyed by the Holocaust, and one woman's struggle to understand and redefine her place among family and the world around her. In prose that reads like a novel, the author draws readers into her journey to locate and engage with as much of her great-grandfather's art as possible. Although primarily focused on Rynecki's great-grandfather, a Polish artist who disappeared during the Holocaust, the book is set against the larger backdrop of artists whose work and lives were stolen by the horrific events of World War II, and how their output must endure in order to have a chance at being restored and recognized. Rynecki also reveals how, through the tangible connection of art, the descendants of Holocaust victims and survivors discover their role in family stories and world history. VERDICT This personal and impassioned account will appeal to anyone interested in creativity, art history, the impact of World War II and the Holocaust on modern life, as well as readers curious about genealogy and the power of family stories.—Elizabeth Zeitz, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-06-21
A page-turning personal history of Rynecki's search for her great-grandfather's legacy.Moshe Rynecki (1881-1943) was a Polish artist whose work "detailed the everyday lives of Polish Jews in the 1920s and 1930s." His singular oeuvre shows the culture and quotidian activities of his people, and his very identity was intimately tied to his Jewish heritage, even to the point of following them into the Warsaw ghetto. He was an ethnographically inspired painter and thought abstract styles would detract from the world he was portraying. He and his wife, Perla, operated an art supply store—or she did while he painted. By the time of the Nazi invasion in 1939, he had 800 works that needed to be protected. With his son George's help, he took paintings out of frames, rolled them up, and put them into piles. Moshe also made a list of which pieces went into each pile, but, unfortunately, the list was lost. The works were entrusted to friends to be retrieved after the war. When the Nazis moved the Jews into the ghetto, George refused to take his family, hiding their Jewishness with new identities. Because Moshe would not deny his heritage, he and Perla entered the ghetto. In 1942, George got his mother out, but his father felt that he had to go "where brothers and sisters go. And if it's death, so be it." The last they heard was that he was on his way to a death camp. After the war, Perla found a bundle of more than 100 paintings and gave them to her son, who moved to the U.S with his wife. That much of the story is fascinating, but it's only the beginning, as the author discovers her grandfather's memoir and begins her search for his paintings. A wonderful story beautifully told. Rynecki's yearslong search, successes, frustrations, and failures are a study in perseverance.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101987667
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/06/2016
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
270,081
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Rynecki is the great-granddaughter of the Polish-Jewish artist, Moshe Rynecki (1881-1943). She grew up with his paintings prominently displayed on the walls of her family home and understood from an early age that the art connected her to a legacy from “the old country”: Poland. In 1999, Elizabeth designed the original Moshe Rynecki: Portrait of a Life in Art website. Today, she continually updates it to keep it current regarding academic research, educational resources, and tracking lost Rynecki paintings. Elizabeth has a BA in Rhetoric from Bates College and a master’s degree in Rhetoric and Speech Communications from UC Davis.

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