Daniel Wildenstein, one of the world's most famous art dealers, has published a book titled “Art Dealers” that has triggered off many questions about the attitude of his father during the Second World War.
Wildenstein, now 82, admitted that the rule of secrecy applied by his family had somewhat been a mistake. “We have been terribly secret and we were wrong in being so,” he wrote.
To correct this, Wildenstein thus decided to write such a book with the help of French journalist Yves Stravidès. He however did not admit that recent events pushed him to do so after his daughter-in-law and his son got separated.
One must remember that his daughter-in-law was prompt in revealing some unsettling matters relating to the Wildenstein family, notably how it cheated fiscal authorities. She also disclosed how many paintings and works of art it possessed and how georges Wildenstein, Daniel's father, behaved during the Second World War.
It must also be noted that Georges' name appeared in a U.S intelligence service report regarding certain French dealers who co-operated with the Nazis between 1940 and 1945. Already, U.S journalist Hector Feliciano had been quite accusative in a book relating to Nazi art thefts during the war in which he was noting that Georges Wildenstein's art collection had curiously been preserved from German seizure.
The Wildenstein family sued Hector Feliciano whom they accused of having defamed its name but lost its case in court while the heirs of Jewish collector Alphonse Kann launched a court action against Daniel in an attempt to recover eight medieval manuscripts supposedly stolen during the war. On October 12th 1999, the Wildenstein family claimed that these manuscripts had been acquired well before the year 1939 and that the Nazi official who had listed them as seized by German authorities had been mistaken in noting their provenance.
All these events thus induced Daniel Wildenstein to react with the publication of his book in which he is giving an account of the Wildenstein saga. He thus has described his grand-father Nathan as the collector who brought back the fame of French 18th Century art forgetting that such feat was the result of the work of the Goncourt brothers during the 1860's.
The book however quite instructive about the activities of famous dealers such as Lord Duveen and the Rosenberg brothers, Léonce and Paul but Daniel Wildenstein has gone as far as defaming in certain chapters former French culture minister André Malraux and Rose Valland, the Louvre Museum official who secretly listed all works stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War and whom he accused of having an affair with a forger thus casting doubts about her honesty.
Dequoy, the man who ran the Wildenstein Gallery during the war in Paris while its owner had sought refuge in the U.S, was on his part described by Daniel as a cheater and a gangster though quite amiable and might thus be considered by readers as a scapegoat through many innuendoes aimed at proving that his father was a victim and certainly not an accomplice of the Nazis. Critics of the daily “Le Monde” however stressed they were not taken in by Daniel's assertions and statements.