The Suvery Gallery in Paris was housed in an impressive building, an elegant eighteenth-century hotel particulier on the Faubourg St. Honore. Collectors came there by appointment, through the enormous bronze doors into the courtyard. Straight ahead was the main gallery, to the left the offices of Simon de Suvery, the owner. And to the right was his daughter's addition to the gallery, the contemporary wing. Behind the house was a large elegant garden filled with sculptures, mainly Rodins. Simon de Suvery had been there for more than forty years. His father, Antoine, had been one of the most important collectors in Europe, and Simon had been a scholar of Renaissance paintings and Dutch masters before opening the gallery. Now he was consulted by museums all over Europe, held in awe by private collectors, and admired although often feared by all who knew him.
Simon de Suvery was a daunting figure, tall, powerfully built, with stern features and dark eyes that pierced through you right to your soul. Simon had been in no hurry to get married. In his youth, he was too busy establishing his business to waste time on romance. At forty he had married the daughter of an important American collector. It had been a successful and happy union. Marjorie de Suvery had never involved herself directly in the gallery, which was well established before Simon married her. She was fascinated by it, and admired the work he showed. She loved him profoundly and had taken a passionate interest in everything he did. Marjorie had been an artist but never felt comfortable showing her work. She did genteel landscapes and portraits, and often gave them as gifts to friends. In truth, Simon had been affected but never impressed by her work. He was ruthless in his choices, merciless in his decisions for the gallery. He had a will of iron, a mind as sharp as a diamond, a keen business sense, and buried far, far beneath the surface, well concealed at all times, was a kind heart. Or so Marjorie said. Though not everyone believed her. He was fair to his employees, honest with his clients, and relentless in his pursuit of whatever he felt the gallery should have. Sometimes it took him years to acquire a particular painting or sculpture, but he never rested until it was his. He had pursued his wife, before their marriage, in much the same way. And once he had her, he kept her as a treasure--mostly to himself. He only socialized when he felt he had to, entertaining clients in one wing of the house.
They decided to have children late in their marriage. In fact it was Simon's decision, and they waited ten years to have a child. Knowing how Marjorie longed for children, Simon had finally acceded to her wishes, and was only mildly disappointed when Marjorie gave birth to a daughter and not a son. Simon was fifty when Sasha was born, and Marjorie thirty-nine. Sasha instantly became the love of her mother's life. They were constantly together. Marjorie spent hours with her, chortling and cooing, playing with her in the garden. She nearly went into mourning when Sasha began school, and they had to be apart. She was a beautiful and loving child. Sasha was an interesting blend of her parents. She had her father's dark looks and her mother's ethereal softness. Marjorie was an angelic-looking blonde with blue eyes, and looked like a madonna in an Italian painting. Sasha had delicate features like her mother, dark hair and eyes like her father, but unlike both her parents, Sasha was fragile and small. Her father used to tease her benevolently and say that she looked like a miniature of a child. But there was nothing small about Sasha's soul. She had the strength and iron will of her father, the warmth and gentle kindness of her mother, and the directness she learned early on from her father. She was four or five before he took serious notice of her, and once he did, all he spoke to her about was art. In his spare time, he would wander through the gallery with her, identifying paintings and masters, showing her their work in art books, and he expected her to repeat their names and even spell them, once she was old enough to write. Rather than rebelling, she drank it all in, and retained every shred of information her father imparted. He was very proud of her. And ever more in love with his wife, who became ill three years after Sasha was born.
Marjorie's illness was a mystery at first, and had all their doctors stumped. Simon secretly believed it was psychosomatic. He had no patience with illness or weakness, and thought that anything physical could be mastered and overcome. But rather than overcome it, Marjorie became weaker with time. It was a full year before they got a diagnosis in London, and a confirmation in New York. She had a rare degenerative disease that was attacking her nerves and muscles, and ultimately would cripple her lungs and heart. Simon chose not to accept the prognosis, and Marjorie was valiant about it, complaining little, doing whatever she could for as long as she was able, spending as much time as she had the strength for with her husband and daughter, and resting as much as possible in between. The disease never snuffed out her spirit, but eventually, as predicted, her body succumbed. She was bedridden by the time Sasha was seven, and died shortly after she turned nine. Despite all the doctors had told him, Simon was stunned. And so was Sasha. Neither of her parents had prepared Sasha for her mother's death. Sasha and Simon had both grown accustomed to Marjorie being interested in all they did, and participating in their lives, even while in bed. The sudden realization that she had disappeared from their world hit them both like a bomb, and fused Sasha and her father closer together than they had ever been. Other than the gallery, Sasha then became the focus of Simon's life.
Sasha grew up eating, drinking, sleeping, loving art. It was all she knew, all she did, and all she loved, other than her father. She was as devoted to him as he was to her. Even as a child, she knew as much about the gallery, and its complicated and intriguing workings, as any of his employees. And sometimes he thought, even as a young girl, she was smarter about it, and far more creative than anyone he employed. The only thing that annoyed him, and he made no bones about it, was her ever increasing passion for modern and contemporary art. Contemporary work irritated him particularly, and he never hesitated to call it junk, privately or otherwise. He loved and respected the Great Masters, and nothing else.
As her father had before her, Sasha attended the Sorbonne, and got a "license," a master's degree, in the history of art. And as she had promised her mother she would, she earned her PhD at Columbia in New York. Then she spent two years working as an intern at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which rounded out her education. During that time, she returned frequently to Paris, sometimes just for a weekend, and Simon visited her as often as possible in New York. It gave him an excuse to visit his clients, as well as museums and collectors in the States. All he really wanted to do was see Sasha, and he used any excuse to do so. What he wanted more than anything else was for Sasha to come home. He was irritable and impatient during her years in New York.
The one thing Simon had never expected was the appearance of Arthur Boardman in Sasha's life. She met him the first week of her doctoral studies at Columbia. She was twenty-two at the time, and married him, despite her father's grumbling protests, within six months. At first, Simon was horrified at her marrying so young, and the only thing that mollified him, and made him consent to the marriage, was that Arthur assured his father-in-law that when Sasha was finished her studies and apprenticeship in New York, he would move to Paris with her and live there. Simon nearly made him sign it in blood. But even he couldn't resist seeing Sasha as happy as she was. Simon finally conceded that Arthur Boardman was a good man, and the right one for her.
Arthur was thirty-two, ten years older than Sasha. He had gone to Princeton, and had an MBA from Harvard. He had a respectable position in a Wall Street investment bank, which conveniently had a Paris office. Early on in their marriage, he began lobbying to run it. Within a year, their son Xavier was born. Two years later, Tatianna arrived. In spite of that, Sasha never missed a beat with her studies. Miraculously, both her babies managed to arrive in the summer, right after she finished her classes. She hired a nanny to help her with them while she was in school and working at the museum. She had learned how to keep many balls in the air, while watching her father run the gallery when she was a child. She loved her busy life, and adored Arthur and her two children. And although Simon was a somewhat hesitant grandfather at first, he warmed to it quickly. They were enchanting children.
Sasha spent every spare moment with them she could, singing the same songs and playing the same nursery games her mother had played with her. In fact, Tatianna looked so much like her maternal grandmother that it unnerved Simon at first, but as Tatianna grew older, he loved just sitting and watching her, and thinking of his late wife. It was like seeing her reborn as a little girl.
True to his word, Arthur moved the entire family to Paris when Sasha finished her two-year internship at the Met in New York. The investment bank was literally giving him the Paris office to run, at thirty-six, and had full confidence in him, as did Sasha. She was going to be even busier there than she had been in New York, where she'd been working only part time at the museum, and spent the rest of her time caring for her children. In Paris, she was going to work at the gallery with her father. She was ready for it now. He had agreed to let her leave by three o'clock every day, so she could be with her children. And she knew she would have a lot of entertaining to do for her husband. She returned to Paris, victorious, educated, excited, and undaunted, and thrilled to be home again. And so was Simon to have her home, and working with him at last. He had waited twenty-six years for that moment, and it had finally come, much to their mutual delight.
He still appeared as stern as he had when she was a child, but even Arthur noticed, once they moved to Paris, that Simon was softening almost imperceptibly with age. He even chatted with his grandchildren from time to time, although most of the time, when he visited, he preferred to just sit and observe them. He had never felt at ease with young children, not even Sasha when she was small. By the time they moved back to Paris, he was seventy-six years old. And Sasha's life began in earnest from that moment.
Their first decision was where to live, and Simon stunned them by solving their dilemma for them. Sasha had been planning to look for an apartment on the Left Bank. Their small family was already too large for the apartment the bank owned in the sixteenth arrondissement. Simon volunteered to move out of his wing of the house, the elegant three-floor domain he had occupied for his entire marriage, and the years before and after. He insisted it was far too big for him, and claimed the stairs were hard on his knees, although Sasha didn't quite believe him. Her father still walked for miles. He volunteered to move to the other side of the courtyard, on the top floor of the wing they used for additional offices and storage. He quickly set to work remodeling it with charming oeil de boeuf windows under a mansard roof, and put in a funny little motorized seat, which sped up and down the stairs, and delighted his grandchildren, when he let them ride it. He walked up the stairs beside them while they squealed with excitement. Sasha helped him with the decorating and remodeling, which instantly gave her an idea. Not one he liked at first. It was a plan she'd had for years, and had dreamed of all her life. She wanted to expand the gallery to include contemporary artists. The wing that had previously been used for storage was perfect for her plan. It was across the courtyard and from their offices and her father's new home. Admittedly, opening the ground floor would cramp their storage space, but she had already consulted an architect to build highly efficient storage racks upstairs. At her first mention of selling contemporary work, Simon went through the roof. He was not going to corrupt the gallery, and its venerable name, selling the garbage that Sasha liked, by unknown artists he insisted had no talent. It took her almost a year of bitter arguments to convince him.
It was only when she threatened to leave the gallery and set up shop on her own that Simon finally relented--albeit with considerable rancor and a ferocious amount of grumbling. Although gentler in style, Sasha was as tough as he was, and had held her ground. Once the plan was agreed to, she didn't even dare meet her new artists in their main offices because her father was so rude to them. But Sasha was as stubborn as he was. A year after they moved back to Paris, she opened the contemporary arm of the gallery with style and fanfare. And much to her father's astonishment, to unfailingly great reviews, not just because she was Sasha de Suvery but because she had an eye for good, solid contemporary work, just as her father did in what he knew best.
Remarkably, Sasha kept a foot in both worlds. She was knowledgeable about what he sold so competently and brilliant about newer work. By the time she was thirty, three years after she had opened Suvery Contemporary on his premises, it was the most important contemporary gallery in Paris, and perhaps in Europe. And she'd never had so much fun in her life. Nor had Arthur. He loved what she did, and supported her in every move, every decision, every investment, even more than her father, who remained reluctant though ultimately respectful of what she'd accomplished with contemporary work. In fact, she had brought his gallery into the present with a bang.
From the Hardcover edition.