The exhibition at Saint-Etienne de Saint-Geoirs
In the 1990s. Danièle Delaruelle-Depraz took, with a committee of village folks, the initiative to honour Rose Valland. The widow of Xavier Depraz, a famous opera singer who retired in the village, Danièle set forth the principle of a not-for-profit association “La mémoire de Rose Valland”. Under her aegis the village folks organised an exhibition at Saint Etienne de Saint Geoirs in 1999 on which occasion Mr Humbert paid tribute to Rose Valland together with Lucie Aubrac.
Thanks to a loan of documents selected by Marie Hamon (archivist at the ministère des Affaires étrangères) and to countless contributions, a homegrown but stylish scenography showed up Rose Valland’s work. The village has yet to receive public aid towards the creation of a Musée Rose Valland and hopes that a plaque will be placed at the Jeu de Paume and at the Louvre in the name of their heroine. Respected art historians such as Didier Schulmann (Curator, Centre Pompidou) also favour this posthumous acknowledgment. Several US internet sites already give her pride of place.
In the wake of this original experiment, Françoise Flamant, a retired teacher with an École du Louvre degree, also a feminist, collected interviews of village folks who knew Rose Valland. The accounts bear out Rose’s deep attachment to her village. In 2003, Saint Etienne de Saint Geoirs named a square after Rose Valland.
Françoise Flamant on Rose’s trail
“[…] A dull, gloomy village, somewhat deserted. The town centre and its simple houses still boast a few cafés, corner shops, a square, a school named after Rose.
Rose’s house, with her wheelwright father’s smithy hard by, is in a narrow lane. I enter the smithy. A dim place but everything is still in place… the anvil, the oven, the ventilation mechanism as if this man had only left the day before. Rose was born here… Life is hard her mother holds out, takes care of her. The father hangs about at his local. It pains Rose. She tears herself away from her family, this village […]. Her studies fork off; she trains to teach drawing, becomes interested in art, in beauty. She first lives out her vocation as an artist. But she gives up. The paintings I see by her […] are academic efforts […].
In 2000, we are in a Saint Etienne de Saint Geoirs café, her friends have all gathered around.
Mrs and Mr Vuillermez, the hairdresser who tells me he met Rose one month before her death. “She was a tall imposing woman, commanding, almost masculine.” Long after the war as he was doing her hair during one of her visits, she mentioned her fears. She felt threatened.
The carpenter’s son remembers her well: “she came once a year and stayed for a week at her cousin’s”. I ask whether Joyce came with her. She came but rarely.
“Rose invited us at the Forteresse, a restaurant. She was very organised. She invited her friends in three batches. Every year it was the same procedure.”
“She never talked of what she had done. She only reminisced about her childhood and the memories she had of the village.” Madeleine the tall beautiful elderly woman who sits opposite me says: ”My mother, Rose, and her cousin who ran a café met up every year and talked for hours on end.”
“I know someone In Grenoble who has kept letters from Rose and a painting she did, I believe…”
Then we go to the graveyard, to visit Rose’s grave where her parents and Joyce are also buried. We leave on our left a walnut grove, those walnut trees Rose loved so much. When living in her small Paris flat, she came to need shelves for her books. She asked the carpenter of Saint Etienne de Saint Geoirs to make these shelves from home walnut wood.
Back in the village, I look for some postcards as a keepsake. They are not well set. It is raining […].
I make my way back to Nanou’s [Danièle Delaruelle-Depraz] who has taken me in for a few days in the big house she had refitted with Xavier when he retired from the Opéra de Paris. A fine house, large, well lit. We listen to him (a record) his powerful bass fills the space, and we think of Rose…
Nanou, is here in her armchair, her large dark eyes mesmerised, her little dog at her side. Nanou who did so much to keep Rose’s memory alive.”
Françoise Flammant 2000 (unpublished)
Rose on the internet
In the mid-90s the thematic emerged of the “missing” works – spoliated, sold, or looted during WWII… Official instances took a fresh interest in the works, their restitution was envisioned and organised. In a context where symposia proliferated, the activism of a small association of village folks brought Rose Valland into the limelight. But the growth of the Internet was the actual game changer.
There is no record of Rose Valland in schoolbooks or popularising books on the Second World War. The many symposia, the work of the Mattéoli Commission, some outstanding publications by a few specialists and two American journalists Lynn H. Nicholas and Héctor Feliciano) the broadcasting of the film The Train upon the death of its director in 2002 all contributed to bring the figure of Rose Valland into focus.
An urge for remembrance and the presence of documents would come together on the Internet and make fresh research on Rose Valland possible. Official sites (e.g. the ministère des Affaires étrangères) provide a substantial file on the Schloss collection. MNRs are more clearly marked out. And search engines make it possible to uncover sites and countless links – admittedly of varying quality – but mentioning the work of Rose Valland, Resistance fighter, art historian, collector.
An American para-university site “The documentation project” retraces the history of the Jeu de Paume and offers a virtual visit of the Museum as it was then (with close ups on the rooms and the works). This virtual visit helps figure the magnitude of the haul and the quality of the works and it includes in an annex dated 20 October 1942 the list of the works taken by Herman Göring.
This kind of site, overblown commentary notwithstanding (the introduction clumsily represents the Jeu de Paume as a “’concentration camp’ for confiscated works of art” when the words ‘sorting centre’ would be more apposite) helps enquirers, art lovers or neophytes, visualise what the “exhibitions” could look like prior to the crating and shiping of the works. The Internet has not only increased the number of sources available, it has also revolutionised the perception of such documents and the intelligence of archives.
The second example of the growing visibility of Rose Valland’s activity comes from the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida. Devised as a teacher reference tool, a Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust, provides, among other resources a worldwide descriptive bibliography; under that heading, at Specialised Biographies =>Looted Art, Rose Valland is mentioned three times, including, alphabetically, under her own name in reference 373 for her 1961 book.