Meet the courageous Captain Rose Valland – a member of the French resistance and one of the most highly decorated women in French history – and the inspiration behind THE RIVIERA HOUSE.
An Art Saviour
During the second world war, across France, the Nazis systematically stole almost every private collection of artwork belonging to Jewish families, some twenty thousand pieces in total. The thieved artworks included paintings such as Vermeer’s Astronomer, owned by Édouard de Rothschild and now hanging in the Louvre in Paris, as well as pieces by Van Gogh, Rodin, Picasso, Rembrandt and many more celebrated artists.
While we often associate the French Resistance in WWII with acts of tremendous bravery in saving persecuted people, Captain Valland is credited with secretly recording the details of the Nazis’ plundering of artworks and thus working with the Resistance to save countless works of art. She hid her spying behind a demure exterior, acting as the quiet and almost invisible caretaker of the museum where the Nazis stored their spoils. She pretended she couldn’t understand German when in fact she could read all the documents relating to the stolen paintings, documents she copied. She could also interpret every conversation held within her earshot, conversations that led to her being the only person in Paris who truly understood the extent of the Nazis’ thieving and their grand and terrible ambitions when it came to removing every important artwork to Germany to adorn Hitler’s proposed Führermuseum and Hermann Göring’s private collection.
Without Rose’s heroic efforts, and thorough and careful documentation, it’s certain that tens of thousands of priceless and irreplaceable artworks would not have been restituted to their rightful owners after the war, but would have been lost forever. She helped to protect and preserve the cultural heritage of a nation, despite knowing that if she were caught, she would most likely be killed. In fact, Nazi Colonel von Behr did, at one point in 1944, threaten to take her to the border and shoot her. But Rose continued with her resistance work, undeterred.
I first heard of Rose Valland in Anne Sebba’s book, Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s, which has been a source for at least two of my book ideas. The story of a woman risking her life for art intrigued me and I wanted to know more. So I started writing and researching.
Like all of the real-life heroines in my books, Rose’s story is one that hasn’t received the attention it deserves. I can’t wait for you to meet her, and learn more about her courage, in THE RIVIERA HOUSE later this year.