The Magazine

The Collectors

The consolation of art in the midst of destruction.

Mar 23, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 26 • By EDITH ALSTON
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"It was with your collection that I understood how Goering had organized a new economy. It benefited Hitler first, Goering shortly thereafter and next the French art dealers. .  .  . The market was flooded with forgeries precisely because the Germans wanted this so-called Aryan art, from centuries past with no 'degeneracy' and no modernity. .  .  . No money changed hands. The Jews' art replaced the need for currency. Goering kept his two paintings, and the French dealer obtained twelve masterpieces that he would quickly sell. .  .  . Hitler's acquisitions are much easier for me to trace, since he insisted on 'paying' for his. He had a middle-class attitude toward finances."

Rose is based on the real-life Rose Valland, a curator at Paris's museum of modern works, the Jeu de Paume. Frumpy and single-minded, Valland worked virtually unnoticed under the noses of the Nazis throughout the war, documenting the huge volume of confiscated works that passed through the museum, and alerting the Resistance about trainloads of loot headed for Germany, keeping them out of range of Allied bombs.

If a poignant family secret linked to Almonds never quite gains traction against the density of the history embedded here, the story never loses the thread of its main intention: to calibrate the sustaining power of art, great or modest, among those who know it best and treasure it most, beyond every nuance of creative expression and centime of material worth--and the consolation in the memories of it when all else has been lost. And if the Rose of history never quite lived up to the glamour of Max's Rose, chalk it up to the memories of a young man in Paris seeing for the first time through the eyes of love.

Edith Alston is a writer and editor in New York.