THE VANISHED COLLECTION
by Pauline Baer de Perignon
Translated from the French by Natasha Lehrer
La Collection Disparue was first published in French on 9/9/2020
Nonfiction / Memoir
January 11, 2022
Available in paperback and ebook
It all started with a list of paintings.
There, scribbled by a cousin she hadn’t seen for years, were the names of the masters whose works once belonged to her great-grandfather, Jules Strauss: Renoir, Monet, Degas, Tiepolo and more.
Pauline Baer de Perignon knew little to nothing about Strauss, or about his vanished, precious art collection. But the list drove her on a frenzied trail of research in the archives of the Louvre and the Dresden museums, through Gestapo records, and to consult with Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano.
What happened in 1942? And what became of the collection after Nazis seized her great-grandparents’ elegant Parisian apartment?
The quest takes Pauline Baer de Perignon from the Occupation of France to the present day as she breaks the silence around the wrenching experiences her family never fully transmitted, and asks what art itself is capable of conveying over time.
PRAISE FOR THE VANISHED COLLECTION
“Riveting … This page-turner will delight art history and mystery fans alike.” —Publishers Weekly
“Undeniably intriguing … memorable and often moving. A fascinating journey to uncover lost family secrets—and treasure.” — Kirkus Reviews
“As devourable as a thriller… Incredibly moving.” —Elle
“Stimulated by a desire to write, Pauline unconsciously understands that what she really wants is to bear witness. As if in a Kubrick film, she opens a door and a river of blood pours out on her. With valued assistance from Modiano, Pauline digs into this shocking story that amazes and breaks the heart … transforming an unfortunately commonplace account of paintings stolen by the Nazis into a breathtaking novel of suspense.” —Le Figaro
“Pauline Baer de Perignon is a natural storyteller―refreshingly honest, curious and open. Like the best memoirists, she manages to tell multiple stories simultaneously, to delicately layer meanings and narratives. Here is not only a riveting art world mystery, but an utterly personal, heartfelt, and extremely intelligent story of a woman doing everything she can to uncover the truths of her family.” ―Menachem Kaiser, author of Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure
“For decades the lost Jules Strauss collection lay shrouded in mystery. First the Nazi expropriation, followed by the family’s own denial. Finally through determination a great-granddaughter is able to piece together previously buried clues. Pauline Baer’s goal is justice, but an unexpected consequence is a poignant connection with lost family and a keener understanding of history.” — Simon Goodman, author of The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family’s Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis
HALL WAYS REVIEW: When I read the premise of The Vanished Collection by
Pauline Baer de Perignon, I was immediately enticed to read it. Even the cover
blurb promised a nonfiction story that would read like fiction with elements of
intrigue and mystery as the author researched and uncovered long-buried family
secrets. Did the Nazis seize her Jewish great-grandfather’s art collection? Did
her great-grandfather, Jules Strauss, make a deal to keep himself and family
from deportation during the German occupation of France? Were national museums
intentionally holding paintings from their rightful owners?
The story was translated from the French (by Natasha Lehrer –
bravo!), and the Francophile in me delighted at the mostly Parisian settings,
the sprinkling of French words, and naturally, the general French way. (I liked
it so much that I’m considering buying the original version, La collection
disparue, just to have a re-read with a slightly different spin.) Not only is
there French appeal, but the librarian in me also rejoices in how various
librarians give the author the tools and information to find what she needs.
“The truth was I worked with a blend of instinct,
enthusiasm, and curiosity … the truth was, I was making it all up as I went
One of the endearing qualities of The Vanished Collection
is how readers will connect with author Baer de Perignon. Her drive – or is
it a calling? An obsession, even? – is just there. Her instinct tells
her that there are things just waiting to be uncovered. At times, she seeks inspiration
and direction from the long-dead Jules, almost channeling him to hear his
cryptic words. At other times, she is pumping relatives for information, and it’s
clear that not everyone wants to remember what she’s asking them to recall. And
she even seeks answers from the artworks themselves, staring and studying and
listening to their quiet messages.
I consider myself an art appreciator, but by no means am I
well-educated in art history. Even so, I know the value of the various pieces
Jules owned is staggering – as is the notoriety of the artists whose works he
possessed: Monet, Degas, Renoir, Sisley, Tiepolo, and more. I found learning the
process of uncovering a piece of art’s provenance fascinating, and it also
angered me to be reminded of how often the Nazis took what wasn’t theirs to
take and destroyed lives in the process. It further angered me to see that reparations
are still slow to happen (if they happen at all), even with overwhelming
evidence of wrongdoing in hand.
The Vanished Collection is an engaging book, easily
read in one sitting, but whose story lingers long after the final pages are
turned. The author’s journey into the past, along with her unexpected journey
of self-discovery into the present, create a not-to-be-missed story.
Thank you to France Book Tours for providing a print ARC in exchange for my honest opinion -- the only kind I give.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pauline Baer de Perignon has co-authored film scripts and directed writing workshops in Paris where she lives. The Vanished Collection
is her first book.