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January 3, 2014

Friday, January 03, 2014 - , No comments

Resistance fighter and Paris art dealer René Gimpel died on this day in a concentration camp in 1945

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

On this date, January 3, in 1945, Paris art dealer René Gimpel (born 1881), brother-in-law of the art dealer Joseph Duveen, died in Neungamme concentration camp.

In The Rape of Europa, Lynn Nicholas recounts that René Gimpel, had traveled the year before his death to Geneva to see an exhibit of paintings from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Barcelona after General Franco paused 'bombing operations so that the paintings could be removed' to safety during the Spanish Civil War:
In an extraordinary international effort, a Committee for the Salvage of Spanish Art Treasures, cooperating with the League of Nations, as well as French and British cultural agencies, backed by private money raised in a little more than twenty-four hours from collectors in Europe and America, organized a truck convoy to move the collection to France. There the precious cases were loaded on a special twenty-two-car train and taken to a Geneva, where they were exhibited in a show not likely to be equalled, for these are things which never normally travel, and certainly not en mass: all the great Velázquezes, Bruegel's Triumph of Death, 26 El Grecos, 38 Goyas, Dürer's Self-Portrait: 174 paintings in all.
Anyone who could, from Kenneth Clark and Bernard Berenson to Matisse and Picasso, travelled the long road to see it. Late in August one of the last visitors, the Paris dealer René Gimpel, wrote in his diary [on August 24 from Geneva, in the second to last entry of his journal]:
The conflagaration is not far from bursting in upon us. We have been here for forty-eight hours to see the Prado Exhibition... Death hangs over our heads, and if it must take us, this last vision of Velázquez, Greco, Goya, Roger van der Weyden, will have made a fine curtain.
Gimpel's book, Journal d'un Collectionneur (Diary of an art dealer, 1966, English translation by Joseph Rosenberg), recounted the art world between the wars 1918-1939, citing sales and prices of art, giving his opinions in brief posts like this one on 'March 12, 1918/Fake painting':
A fake Gainsborough, a Blue Boy, has just been knocked down at the Hearn sale in New York for more than $32,000. It's harder to sell a genuine painting.
Gimpel wrote on March 25, 1924, under the heading "Vandals":
A specialist in Egyptian art has told me that he is waiting for a large Egyptian statue. To get it out of Egypt, it was cut into forty-six pieces, and the work of reconstitution is being done in Paris. This happens every day.
His last entry: "September 3/Paris, We're at war."

Sir Herbert Read writes in the introduction of the 1966 translated journal that René Gimpel's father, who established the family gallery in Paris in 1889, had been an Alsatian 'who had come to the French capital because as a French citizen he could not tolerate the terms of the Treaty of 1871':
René Gimpel was imbued with the same spirit of revolt, and during the Second World War he and his sons were to participate actively in the Resistance. René was eventually interned by the Vichy authorities for his underground activities, released in 1942 but then re-arrested by the Germans. In prison he taught English to his fellow prisoners, to prepare them, as he said, for the liberation. He was sent with a convoy to Germany and suffered great hardships under which his healthy finally broke down. 
Louis Martin-Chauffier, fellow-prisoner in Neuengamme concentration camp toward the end of 1944, described his end in a letter written some years later to Jean Guehenno (quoted in M. Guehenno's Preface to the original French edition of the journal): "Physically he was no more than a shadow of his former self, as was usually the case with all of them, but morally he had not changed, and that is infinitely rarer. Knowing that he was soon to die, he continued as if nothing was happening, to speak of life and to give to his companions, overwhelmed by exhaustion, despair, and disgust, the example of the serenity of a man who, having nothing more to lose and having done what he can, is left with only one duty, which is not to flinch and to help others."
René Gimpel's papers are archived at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art.