Belonging and Betrayal: How Jews Made the Art World Modern

Belonging and Betrayal: How Jews Made the Art World Modern

by Charles Dellheim

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The story of dealers of Old Masters, champions of modern art, and victims of Nazi plunder.
Since the late-1990s, the fate of Nazi stolen art has become a cause célèbre. In Belonging and Betrayal, Charles Dellheim turns this story on its head by revealing how certain Jewish outsiders came to acquire so many old and modern masterpieces in the first place – and what this reveals about Jews, art, and modernity. This book tells the epic story of the fortunes and misfortunes of a small number of eminent art dealers and collectors who, against the odds, played a pivotal role in the migration of works of art from Europe to the United States and in the triumph of modern art. Beautifully written and compellingly told, this story takes place on both sides of the Atlantic from the late nineteenth century to the present. It is set against the backdrop of critical transformations, among them the gradual opening of European high culture, the ambiguities of Jewish acculturation, the massive sell-off of aristocratic family art collections, the emergence of different schools of modern art, the cultural impact of World War I, and the Nazi war against the Jews.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781684580576
Publisher: Brandeis University Press
Publication date: 09/21/2021
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 487,024
File size: 32 MB
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About the Author

Charles Dellheim is professor of history at Boston University. He is the author of The Face of the Past: The Preservation of the Medieval Inheritance in Victorian England and The Disenchanted Isle: Mrs. Thatcher’s Capitalist Revolution.

Read an Excerpt

          During and after the Nazi era, ignorant or unscrupulous individuals, institutions, and governments acquired despoiled works of art. it evidently was difficult for dealers, collectors, museums, and European states to resist the sudden availability of a bonanza of old and modern masterpieces. if some knew or suspected that gaps in wartime provenance signaled that they might be buying looted objects, others had little or no idea that there was anything wrong with their purchases.
          The fate of pillaged Nazi art has become a cause célèbre—a problem to be solved as well as a story to be told. the realization that countless paintings, drawings, sculptures, and objects d’art were never returned to their owners, or their heirs provoked justified outrage. rarely did months ago by at the turn of the twenty-first century without articles in the press about the discovery of plundered art and bitter disputes about ownership. it seemed that no more major revelations would take place. then, in February 2012, German authorities seized over 1,400 objects valued at approximately $1.4 billion, including works by Matisse, Picasso, and Chagall that had been confiscated by the Nazis from the Munich apartment of eighty-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt.  His father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, had been ousted by the Nazis from his position as a museum director because they considered him “one quarter Jewish,” but they had authorized him to buy and sell “degenerate”—which is to say, “modern”—art.
          Family history, art history, and political history collided in battles over Nazi-stolen art. such cases raise complicated legal and moral questions regarding the rights of various parties and the responsibilities of persons, museums, and governments to survivors or their heirs. there is good reason to welcome the long-delayed restitution of Nazi-stolen art, most famously the return of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) to its rightful heirs. Even so, the danger of dwelling on the darkly enthralling story of theft and murder—how Nazis stole the art collections of Jews, along with many of their lives—is that it can obscure a compelling historical question: How did certain European Jews acquire so much great art in the first place, and what does this reveal about the Jewish encounter with modernity? this is the untold story of Nazi-stolen art.
          This Book sets out to reframe our picture of Nazi-stolen art. it does so by turning the story on its head: taking the true measure of dispossession is only possible when we grasp what art meant to the dealers and collectors who loved and lost them. “Even when one is no longer attached to things, it’s still some-thing to have been attached to them; because it was always for reasons which other people didn’t grasp.” thus Charles Swann observes in Marcel Proust’s in Search of Lost Time. grasping these reasons entails delving into the story of how certain Jews became art dealers and collectors, what art meant to them, what impact their activities had on art and society, and, finally, how these people were regarded, received, and treated.
          This book sets the protagonists’ stories against the backdrop of the broader changes that affected their fortunes and transformed art and society. among them were the gradual opening of high culture; the dynamics of assimilation, acculturation, and antisemitism; the decline of the landed classes and ascent of a new capitalist elite; the cultural impact of the “great war”; and the Nazi war against the Jews.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Reframing the Picture

Part I. The Old Masters’ New Masters
1. Horse Dealer to Art Dealer
2. Treasure Island
3. Assimilating Art
4. Acquiring Eyes
5. Metropolitan Man

Part II. Was Modernism Jewish?
6. Madman and Sons
7. Was Modernism Jewish?
8. First Impressionists
9. Berlin Calling
10. Between Bohemian and Bourgeois
11. The Right Banker

Part III. In The Middle
12. The Wheel of War
13. Brothers-in-Arms
14. Custody Battles
15. In the Market of Love
16. Brothers-in-Law
17. Gentlemen and Players

Part IV. To Have And Have Not
18. Artful Jews
19. Artless Jews
20. Next Year in Paris?
21. After the Fall
22. The Dispossessed
23. The Exiles and the Kingdom
Epilogue: A Crack in Everything

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