Pictures at an Exhibition, Sara’s first novel, tells the story of a family of Parisian Jewish art dealers whose art collection is looted during World War II. Much of it is based on real stories of people she met while on a Fulbright scholarship to Paris and on the historical documents that remain after the war.
Sara’s parents threw out the TV when she was eight, and she credits that act with starting her on the path to reading and writing. By the time she reached Paris, she knew she wanted to write about France in the post-war period, and that she wanted to write about Edouard Manet’s paintings, which she found beautiful and unsettling. A lot of doors opened up for her while she did research in France. For instance, she met a lawyer at a cocktail party at which neither of them knew anyone else. Sara told him about her novel, and he said, "That sounds like the story of a woman I know." She emailed him a picture of Paul Rosenberg, the art dealer for Picasso and Matisse on whom the novel is most closely based. A day later, she received a letter from Paul Rosenberg's granddaughter, Marianne, who not only knew a lot of the history of that time, but was also a great editor.
Rose Clément is the novel’s most important historical figure and her name and much of her story comes from Rose Valland (1898-1980), the curator of the Jeu de Paume. Valland stayed on in the Modern art museum after it was occupied by the Nazis and transformed into a sorting center for looted artwork. The Nazis couldn’t believe that such an unassuming woman could disobey their orders, and so even when they caught her writing down lists of paintings, she managed to convince them the notes weren’t important. Her prodigious memory, clandestine communication with the Free French, and meticulous documentation of looters, the looted, and the destination of the spoils saved thousands of paintings for their eventual repatriation. France had more artwork looted than any other country in Europe. Over one-third of all privately-held artwork was seized by the Nazis: in all, over 100,000 works of art and several million books.
Sara is fascinating and delightful, and I can only imagine how much fun high school freshmen must have in her English classes. She recently was engaged to Daniel Mason, the author of The Piano Tuner and A Far Country, who was raised in this area. The audience had a huge contingent of Sara’s in-laws to be, as well as a number of friends, who all seemed to have a wonderful time