The Art Market under the Occupation

Original title: Le marché de l’art Sous l’occupation

Publication Date:

February 2019



Original language and publisher

French | Tallandier


Art, History

The Art Market under the Occupation

Original title: Le marché de l’art Sous l’occupation

  • 2 Seas Represents: Dutch, Nordic Countries, English (Canada), English (USA) rights.


It’s a fact that the art market in France during World War II is flourishing. Pieces of art are sold, smuggled and traded, sometimes at a very high price and these transactions have heavy consequences on the destiny of pieces that belong to Jewish families. Likewise, anti-Semitic laws ostracize numerous actors and actresses of the art market because they are stamped as “Jews”.

In 2012, the German government stumbles upon more than 1,500 paintings in a Munich apartment. They are the war treasures that Cornelius Gurlitt, an art dealer, had robbed from Jewish families. From this precise starting point, Emmanuelle Pollack sheds light on the patterns of a prosperous art market in a context of persecution and connivance. The first spoliations of Jewish properties started a mere week after the German troops entered Paris. Jewish people’s misfortune goes hand in hand with the healthiness of the art market. It bloomed when Paris was under the Nazi’s occupation. Hôtel Drouot auction house was packed, reaching all-time records. Auctioneers and well-known experts, French, Swiss, German art dealers, French and German museum curators, they all profited from the robbing of Jewish paintings, master pieces, ancient books, etc.

Jewish owners’ apartments are looted, and, with the help of the Vichy government, Parisian galleries are, too. Meanwhile, upon the General Commissariat for Jewish Affairs’ request, Jewish people are banned from the Hôtel Drouot auction house. Backed up by archived documents, Emmanuelle Polack explains without judgment how some art market fortunes are made during the Occupation.

Emmanuelle Polack, doctor in Art History (Ph.D.) and screenwriter, was the Head of the Museum of French Monuments’ archiveswithin the Architecture and Heritage City. In 2010, she curated the exhibit « Rose Valland sur le front de l’art ». She was called upon as a consultant when 1,500 paintings were discovered in a Munich apartment, stolen from Jewish families by the art dealer Cornelius Gurlitt.