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Pictures at an Exhibition

3.38 of 5 stars 3.38  ·  rating details  ·  988 ratings  ·  216 reviews
A sweeping and sensuous novel of a son’s quest to recover his family’s lost masterpieces, looted by the Nazis during the occupation.

Max Berenzon’s father is the most successful art dealer in Paris, owner of the Berenzon Gallery, home to both Picasso and Matisse. To Max’s great surprise, his father forbids him from entering the family business, choosing instead to hire a be
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Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 9th 2010 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2009)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,890)
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Amy
In 1944-45 Paris, Max, the son of a prominent art dealer, tracks down the confiscated contents of his father's gallery. The key to the mystery is Rose Clement, who'd apprenticed with his father before the war and worked during the war at the Jeu de Paume.

Likes: the embedded history lessons. Between liberation and the end of the war, Paris was more chaotic than I'd realized. Hard to picture battles around the Grand Palais or in the Luxemburg Gardens.

Dislikes: The writing was awkward, heavy. Max'
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Cynthia
Wow, if only all novels were this good. Intelligent, informative, compulsively readable, moving without being painfully so. I highly recommend this book. I was glad that I had just finished reading Thomas Hoving's Master Pieces, and so had some idea what the paintings described in the book look like; it's not essential but if you don't know much about art it's not a bad idea to have a Survey of Great Western Art type book available. Or i guess you can look the pictures up on the internet. A real ...more
Bill
Excellent debut novel about the art world in Paris before WW2 and the story of all the art looted by the Nazis, much of which was never recovered. Extremely well written, especially for a first novel.
Helen
What happened during the Second World War to all the art owned by Jewish people in France? MS Houghteling takes a Parisian art dealer as an example, describes what he has on his walls and which artists he handles and then shows the ways in which cultural objects were made to disappear. Many of them were intended for Hitler's projected museum, but some went to collections of Nazi leaders and not a few were lifted by "Americans". I put quote marks because I am sure the people flogging art after li ...more
Joan
What is the loss of art, compared to the murder of millions of human beings? Perhaps little. Yet art is part of what makes us human, and the destruction and theft of art because of its associations with people of a particular ethnicity is soul murder.

During World War II, the Germans looted the great museums and the great private collections of Europe. Much of this loot has never been recovered, and, even where it has, much of it has not or cannot be restituted, because of lack of records, resist
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Jennifer
I was thinking that one of the tell tale signs of a mediocre book review is "I really wanted to like this book..." And I really did. I enjoyed the setting of the Paris art scene in the pre world war two era. This was what drew me to the book in the first place. But the setting and the books potential were undermined by the vapidness of the main character - the son of a Jewish art dealer. The first half of the book (pre-war)he is floundering in his father's shadow and wallowing in a strange gener ...more
Brenna
Sometimes I pick up a book by an author I've never heard of, whose book is reviewed by other authors I've never heard of or know I don't like, just because the plot idea for the book is so intriguing.

Note to self: stop doing this. You'll only spend the entire time you're reading the book wishing a better writer had thought of the plot idea.

There was a lot of confusing, convoluted writing in this book, and it was as if the author was having a hard time wrestling the book into submission. It see
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Charlaralotte
A good read, though ended just when it could have really begun to go somewhere. The info about the real woman that the story is based on sounded fascinating, and I wished that the book had many more chapters about her involvement in the art dealings with the Nazis and with the French after the war.

The main character was not as interesting as her (he's smart but so oblivious about people around him that he is frustrating), so I understand why the book ended when it did, but I think we lost a grea
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Allyson
I really wanted to like this book much more than I did. The subject matter and even some of the writing is incredible, but it seemed so flat @ times and also uneven. As if she wrote it in different moods, or else without a cohesive outline, or something. The ideas behind it and how she chose to present the story was very interesting, but it needed more guidance, more depth, more story, more something.
I am almost tempted to reread it at a later date to see if my disappointment once forgotten is n
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Liane Wakabayashi
I've just returned from Paris and oh what a trip Sara Houghteling has prepared for us. I'm a lover of European art, Impressionist and post-Impressionist art in general, Manet, Picasso, Matisse in particular, and I have never read a book quite like this--a historical re-enactment of the lives of France's great Jewish art dealers before and during World War II. There's much to celebrate, much to mourn over. Sara Houghteling leaves it up to us to figure out whether art collecting is a high stakes g ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
I really wanted to love this book, to appreciate its classiness and dignity and deep appreciation of art. However, the problem is that with all its splendor of music and art, it is too expository. I am very visual when I read, and I depend on the narrative to float me along, to raise strong vivid images. It failed to do that. The cadence is choppy and before I can attempt to grasp a scene or a character, it has skittered past me. Its very lightness was ponderous.

This is a first novel for Hought
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Kay
My reading of this book happened to coincide with publication of a new study, "Savage Continent," by Keith Lowe, about the violence that persisted in Europe after WWII. Like most Americans, I always thought of VE Day as the happy ending to WWII. In fact, for many survivors it was a nightmare. They were not welcomed back with open arms, and many of their French neighbors were not eager to restore the looted homes, businesses, and possessions. According to Lowe, anti-semitism actually increased in ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

In this historical novel, Houghteling explores Fascism and humanism, unrequited love, and plundered art; it's a historical fact that most of the paintings Max searches for never resurfaced. Critics couldn't help but note that Pictures contains the promises and pitfalls of a first novel. Houghteling evokes 1930s and 1940s Paris, the one-of-a-kind paintings, and the chilling complicity of art dealers in crisp, descriptive language. However, reviewers diverged on a number of points. To some, Rose -

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Kelli
When I realized that this story of a Jewish art dealer's family would be taking me into the days of World War 2 occupation I almost put it aside. I just felt like I could not handle concentration camps and death and loss and heartbreak. It's hard enough to face it in nonfiction, I was not up to letting it take center stage in my escapist fiction literature too. But, true to my vow to myself that every book deserves at least 80 pages before I give up on it, I persevered. I was very glad that I di ...more
Anne
For awhile, I was reading quite a number of books about art theft, art fraud, and art stolen during the Holocaust (including Noah Charney's The Art Thief, and Edward Dolnick's books The Forger's Spell and The Rescue Artist). So, I was a little reluctant to pick this one up, thinking it would just be more of the same. Luckily, I decided to read it anyway. Pictures at an Exhibition takes place in Paris, and chronicles a young man's quest to recover his father's paintings which were looted by the N ...more
Camille
Narrator has a good French accent. Not sure what I think about the book. Subject is very interesting so far. WWII, stolen art.

There were many things I liked about this book. Houghteling did a great job of selling the setting to me. I could smell the Gauloise cigsand the Parisian quai, and the French countryside.

Ultimately, despite the fascinating subject matter, I decided the characters I wanted to know the most about were only seen through the narrator, Max. I wanted to know more about Rose, t
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Meredith
While I did enjoy Ms. Houghteling's prose, the plot has several large gaps. I felt she glazed over the French Jewish people's experiences during and after German-occupied Paris during World war II to focus soley on how the Nazis raided Paris' art collections, both public and private, and the problems that arose trying to restore those stolen art works.

Certainly poignant, I still wanted more information and interaction between the central characters the author created. She sets up these character
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Sherri
This book had so much promise, but I just couldn't finish it. The note at the end of the book about the sources she used for her story was actually quite interesting. It is unfortunate that the story just didn't work. The story is supposed to be a mystery - a family loses their paintings during WWII and the son is on a quest to locate the paintings, and a woman that he fell in love with before he left Paris. The woman was a curator at the Louvre during WWII (the true part of the story that was i ...more
Gwen
I could not put this book down. I have read some of the books that appear in the bibliography, and that may have helped, but the story was fascinating and functioned on many levels: a father-son story, a putative romance, the collaboration of the Vichy government with Nazis, the systematic looting of private art collections during the second world war, the pain of families and friend disappeared (and ultimately dead) during the war, and the goodness and clear morals that guide some people even i ...more
Colleen
This debut novel was a wonderfully written story about love and art and loss that somehow failed to make an emotional connection. Though I was pulled into the narrative, I found myself caring more about the art than the personal lives of the characters. Perhaps the author was trying to convey the coldness of war, but I found myself feeling isolated from the characters. There was great potential in this novel, and the writing was exquisite, but in the end I just wasn't invested enough in it to co ...more
Nicole
I definitely enjoyed this book but I wouldn't say it was fantastic. I was drawn to the fact that its placed in France before, during and after WWII and is focused on stolen art from primarily Jewish families. The main character, Max is well fleshed out but he lacks much of a back bone, which I do not find appealing in male characters, or really any character. The few times he doesn't waffle it comes off as petulantly stubborn and in the end tends to be rather foolish.

I mostly enjoyed the unexpl
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Christopher
Beautifully written for a first novel. Unfortunately, the story never hooked me and I really had to work my way through it. The book is well researched and as previous reviewers have noted, Houghteling clearly has a passion for both art and Paris as well as the talent to express it. A fascinating subject and a wonderful setting are slowed by efforts to keep the reader engaged with the characters. The Author's Note was especially interesting and pointed to other great resources on the subject.

Joyce
I am mixed on this one. There were passages, sentences, paragraphs that were breathtakingly beautiful. The novel had an arc. I could see what the author wanted to do, and sometimes I believed that she had almost achieved it.

But in the end, it didn't quite gel. The pieces didn't hold together. As others have noted, the main character, Max is nowhere near as interesting as many of the other characters in the book. Is lack of understanding is grating. Grating because this isn't one of those books t
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Debbie
Beautifully written. A difficult era to write about, but Ms. Houghteling brought the Paris art world before and after WWII to life. Just an excellent book.
Nancy
I got 3/4s of the way through and just couldn't push to the finish. This is a perfect example of why I prefer non-fiction about such topics. The Journal of Helene Berr, or Nine Suitcases, were readable and real, this book was not. The story of the woman that Rose was based on would have been a vast improvement.

For me, a strangely disjointed narrative of a dullness unsurpassed. I thought I could finish it but, after setting it down for a week, it was even less palatable.

I didn't hate this so not
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Curriec
I enjoyed this book a lot; I enjoyed the main story, which was good, but I was really fascinated by the story behind the story, that of the great works of art that disappeared from private collections all over Europe during WWII, stolen by the Nazis and others. The main story was of a fictional Jewish art dealer in Paris and his wife and son. They managed to hide out the war and survive the deportations, but lost everything, their collections, their business, and their fortune. The author, Sara ...more
Andres Lopez
This is a good book to me and I liked it because it was around world war 2. The genre of this book is drama/mystery. I chose the book because of the cover it seemed like the setting was going to be urban and I like those type of books. The protagonist is Max and Rose. The supporting characters are max's dad and and the family. The antagonist is the Nazi army who stole the paintings. The setting was in the countryside of France and in Paris before and after the World War 2. This book is a very in ...more
Lorri
Pictures at an Exhibition, by Sarah Houghteling is a book written by a new voice, and is Houghteling’s debut novel. The jacket is what caught my attention, as it stated that the book deals with 1930s France, the artistic community, and also deals with art that was looted and stolen during WWII. It sounded like it would be a good read.

I began reading the book, and I found the beginning pages captured my interest. The story line was one of generations of one family, and mainly deals with issues of
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Sonya
The book is an intricately told story about the transition to adulthood of a privilaged young man from a prominent Jewish family, named Max. The story takes place during WWII in Paris. The novel is built around Max's father's famous art gallery, which represented Matisse and Picasso, and sells works by the likes of Manet, Morrisot and Vuillard.

The story follows Max's unrequitted love for an eccentric and brave young Louvre curator Rose, his relationship with his best friend Bertrand and, most o
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Patricia
May 11, 2009 Patricia rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Becky, Carolyn, Lyn, Joshua
Shelves: art-mystery
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Sara Houghteling graduated from Harvard College in 1999 and received her master's in fine arts from the University of Michigan. She is the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship to Paris, first prize in the Avery and Jules Hopwood Awards, and a John Steinbeck Fellowship. She currently lives in California, where she teaches high school English. Pictures at an Exhibition is her first novel.

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