Margaret Lefranc and Anna Walinska

As Margaret Lefranc (190–-1998) explained in many interviews, after World War I her father went to Germany as an employee of the American government to scrap the German fleet. Soon thereafter, the American government’s intentions changed and her father was ordered to help rebuild the German Merchant Marine. 

In Berlin Margaret spent a year in bed with rheumatic fever. Abe bought an apartment building where they lived in the top-floor penthouse, and he built a studio on the roof next to the penthouse since his daughter was always drawing and needed a separate place to do it [1]Her parents recruited a young art student they met to spend time with Margaret to teach her more about charcoal and whatever else he knew. Events in Germany were dreadful. People were actually dropping dead on the street from hunger, so they were happy to model for the money Abe provided.

Lefranc took a few drawing classes when her health permitted until her parents were off to Paris with her in tow.  At that young age, she knew that “Paris was where I need to be educated if I want to be a painter.” [2] 

Self Portrait at Sixteen, 1923, was done during the transition to Paris. When she arrived, she had been drawing and painting seriously for about a decade. She would remain in Paris for ten years before returning to New York.

 Anna Walinska (1906–1997), the daughter of labor leader and Zionist Ossip Walinsky and sculptor Rosa Newman, also lived in Paris as an art student between 1926 and 1930 [3]. While Walinska grew up in New York, Margaret’s formative years were in Germany and Berlin. Once Margaret returned to New York, she decided to open an art gallery for gifted Americans. “In 1935, I opened the Guild Art Gallery at 37 West 57th Street together with a young American woman painter of Russian heritage…My parents got to know our neighbors who were Anna’s parents. When Anna heard that I was interested in opening an art gallery, she said, “Well I know practically every working artist in New York…Let’s become partners.” I thought since Anna knew all the people and I didn’t know anybody, that it might be a good combination. I had…a thousand dollars, and an income of about twenty-five dollars a week…”Anna was supposed to put in half the money…she never came up with money…and she worked part time with…I think…FAP” [4]

Anyone who was doing any work in New York exhibited at the Guild Art Gallery. The Archives of American Art, Smithsonian is the repository for Lefranc’s gallery papers, correspondence, invitations, exhibitions and newspaper reviews written by Genauer, Burrow, Mumfort, Lane and Offin pertaining to a number of artists: Arshile Gorky, Lloyd Raymond Ney, Ary Stillman, Philip Reisman, Donald Forbes, Ahron Ben-Shmual, Chaim Gross, Perkins Harnly, Boris Aronson, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Paul Feeley, Henry Major, Rosa Newman as well as Jacques Zucker, Milton Horn, Saul Baserman, Zygmuynt Menkes, L. Jean Liberte, Raphael Soyer, Nathaniel Dirk, C. Scaravaglione, Enrico Glicenstein, and Jean de Marco. Lefranc’s gallery also hosted the “All-American Graphic Art Show”—sponsored by the American Artists’ Congress consisting of 100 prints selected…by a jury” [5] which included Max Weber and Yasuo Kuniyoshi.

In the second year of funding the gallery, Margaret realized that she was doing most of the work [6] with little time for painting while Anna practiced Spanish dancing in the studio at night. Not only did the gallery have a tenuous future, but also Margaret reasoned that “Anna was mentally unstable.” [7] As Margaret described, “When she became insane…she would go after anything and hit it…[8] Once she broke my right hand…and she never apologized…After that, I insisted that we have only written communication between us and that we were never to be in the gallery at the same time except during exhibitions. As a consequence, she had accumulated journals that she would donate to the Smithsonian, Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C. [9], which occurred in the early 1980s under her married name of Margaret Schoonover. The name on their records was finally corrected to Lefranc after the death of the artist when Sandra McKenzie visited the Archives in Washington, also long after Lefranc was divorced.

Margaret Lefranc always recognized that Anna Walinska had represented herself accurately when stating that she had many contacts in New York.  Margaret also thought that Walinska was artistically very talented and extremely beautiful but that Anna was a disappointment in the fulfillment of their business agreement.

Trying to prevent the inevitable closing of the gallery, Anna Walinska attempted to make peace by presenting a gift to her business partner of her own art, a drawing, Portrait of Margaret Lefranc (1937). Margaret Lefranc graciously accepted the work of art but took steps to dissolve the Guild Art Gallery.

 

[1] Margaret Lefranc discussion with Martha McKenna, Dean of the Graduate School of the Arts, and students of Lesley College (now University), Cambridge, Massachusetts, in Margaret’s Studio in Santa Fe, August 7, 1997.

[2] Margaret Lefranc interview with Diane Armitage of THE magazine, September 22, 1994.

[3] Andrea Pappas, In Search of a Jewish Audience: New York’s Guild Art Gallery, 1935-1937, pg. 264, American Jewish History, A Quarterly Publication of the American Jewish Historical Society, Volume 98, Number 4, October 2014; and Anna Walinska Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[4] Katz, Lois, A Lifetime of Imaging: The Art of Margaret Lefranc, Nouveau Ventures © Margaret Lefranc Art Foundation, p.105, published 2007

[5] Many Excellent Plates, New York World Telegram, Saturday, December 12, 1936.

[6] Katz, Lois, A Lifetime of Imaging: The Art of Margaret Lefranc, Op. cit, pg. 107.

[7] Ibid referencing TAPE 2, Interview with Sandra McKenzie, for intended Margaret Lefranc biography or autobiography.

[8] Margaret Lefranc interview with Diane Armitage of THE magazine, September 22, 1994.

[9]Margaret Lefranc Interview with Michael Koster, January 2, 1997, for an article in Pasatiempo, January 17-23, 1997, re:  St. John’s College Exhibition.