Katia. My name is Katia Granoff. I was born on the 16th of July 1896 in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. My parents, Théodore Granoff and Eudoxie Feldman, die shortly after my 16th birthday. My sister Rose and I are placed with guardians who send us to study in Switzerland and appoint a governess to take care of us. At 19 years old, during a dance, I meet a young man studying medicine. He’s blond with blue eyes and… well, enough said. We get married and I free myself from my governess. It may be the other way around, I am not quite sure anymore.
Ha, how liberating married life is ! What a life I have as a Mrs. I give up my social studies and start studying medicine to be next to my husband. But, if I’m honest, blood, guts, diseases… it’s not quite for me. I go back to my world and graduate in social sciences and economics.
Eventually, I have to come to terms with the fact that having blond hair and blue eyes is not enough. I file for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences” and before the divorce is even granted, I fall deeply in love in Geneva. He’s 12 years older than me and, at this point, it’s half my life… but he’s wonderful. Even my husband agrees, can you imagine? So, I leave for Berlin to be with him.
His heart beats for me but alas, it’s not enough to keep him alive. He dies a few months later of heart disease. The shadows overtake me, and I had just started to see the light…
I am so sad, so lost that on my first outing after his death, I am hit by a tramway and dragged onto the rails. My sister thinks I have tried to commit suicide. But that’s not it. I just did not see the tramway: I was blinded by my love and my pain.
But, if anything else, this accident shakes me to my core: I want to live. And maybe even more so now.
Meanwhile, the Russian Revolution is in full swing and our guardian informs us, my sister and me, that he’s broke and that it’s time for us to get a job. I comply: I get a job as a secretary in the Russian studies office in a bank in Berlin. But the war has destroyed the German capital to the bone. Without a second thought, I go to Paris to be reunited with my sister who just got married.
In 1942, I arrive in Paris then. I get a room in a hotel near the Lion of Belfort (aka Denfert Rochereau) and place an add in a newspaper to find work. But my two bachelors of art and social sciences are not really cutting it. And certainly not actual food. Amidst the bizarre proposals I receive, one catches my eye: secretary for the Salon des Tuileries, a new art exhibition that features contemporary painters.
Behind my tape writer, I only have to wait. Paris has become the international center for painting, painters rush to the capital. The city is an open-air art school and each painter comes with a piece of their story or even their country. It’s exciting and I’m here to see it. I am 28 years old and I finally know what I am meant to be doing.
First, I get a furnished apartment on the first floor, on boulevard Pereire, and I get hold of a few paintings. But, very quickly, in 1926, I move to 166 boulevard Haussmann. At this location, I fund the Granoff Galery and become the curator thanks to what we’d call today, investors. For my first exhibit, a fellow curator warns me “Kick all your painters out and buy impressionist paintings (…) or you’ll go bankrupt in three months”. But the warning comes too late. I was already a late comer to the game and every artist had a contract with a gallery. I have no choice but to choose from painters who are still unattached.
I am reacquainted with Marc Chagall’s work, whom I had defended after he had been kicked out of the Salon des Tuileries. I buy everything Pierre Laprade’s gallery is willing to sell to me. I even get an exclusive right to his work after his death. The very painter who, there was a time, offered a watercolor to a young secretary of the Salon des Tuileries whenever he sold a painting… I am funny, pleasant, intelligent and I have an unforgettable accent. So, I am not forgotten.
After Chagall, come Laprade and so many others. So many others but especially George Bouche, the “colorless painter”, criticized by many but who, in my opinion, is the “most subtle colorist of his time”. “He’s heard without making noises”, that’s all. And maybe, I am not only seeing him through my eyes, but with my heart too. Without a doubt.
I am young and my success is fast; that makes some people jealous. My gallery is unfairly dragged into the bankruptcy of one of my partners and I find myself without a gallery and with 400 francs to my name. I find another location, on credit this time, in a small gallery located at 19 quai de Conti. I have to start all over again and I spend my 400 francs solely on hooks.
Then the 30s come and the Depression follows. I turn on the lights for every visitor and turn them off as soon as they leave the gallery. The city of Paris eventually takes over my premises: a tragic event? I’d call it luck! Recently vacant premises, at the end of the little square, between the Institut de France and the Monnaie de Paris are mine for the taking. At number 13 of Quai de Conti. The building is beautiful and I have many visitors, including André Gide to name only one.
The war breaks out and destroys everything: souls, artwork and ideas. With my sister and my then 6-year-old nephew, I leave Paris and take refuge in a medieval castle in Ardèche with a few paintings. George Bouche mentioned this castle as he reminisced about his childhood. I bought it as you’d buy a painting: with your heart and some amount of madness. Alas, George dies in 1941, at which point he has not left my heart nor his wife…
I spend the five years of the war with my sister Rose and my nephew Pierre. From that moment on, we’ll never part ways again.
Then comes the liberation. In the fall of 1944, I go back to Paris and to my gallery which, by chance, is vacant but also empty of everything I had left behind. I retrieved the few paintings I had brought along with me and placed in the safe hands of a few trusted friends in Lyon and I open my gallery with some amount of uneasiness: I am the first one to dare to do so.
Life finds its way back. I exhibit many male painters but also many female painters: Anne Français, Henriette Gröll, Marthe Brilman, and also the sculptor Chana Orloff.
One day, the painter Alain Barbier introduces me to the son of his friend Claude Monet: Michel. I am about to know my greatest success. As the Water Lilies were gathering dust in a workshop in Giverny since the greatest art merchants of the time disdainfully left them there, I risk everything to have them and give them the place they deserve: the heart of the world.
Beyond its global success, the beauty of the Water Lilies by Monet awakens my love of poetry. I write a collection of fifty poems in Alexandrines entitled Amants maudits and receive the George Dupau award from the Académie française for my anthology of Russian poetry.
One day, as I am purchasing 17 hats in a shop located near the Vieux Bassin in Honfleur (I have a head for hats), I learn that the adjoining shop is on the market. I immediately buy it and turn the first floor into a gallery. I was the first to see the potential of this little Normand harbor. Shortly afterwards, two dozen gallerys sprouted in Honfleur.
I also buy premises in Cannes to open a gallery. From then on, I spend 10 months in the capital, one month in Honfleur and one month in Cannes. I open a new gallery at the Place Beauvau in Paris to get my footing on the right bank.
I receive the Ordre national du mérite from the hands of the Minister Simone Veil and the President of the Senat Alain Poher in 1979. I also have the Legion of Honour and the Médaille nationale des Arts, Sciences et Lettres.
In 1987, I withdraw from my artistic endeavors and leave them all to my dear nephew Pierre Larock. In 2020, the gallery will live on I am sure and will show new exhibitions on a regular basis. A gallery created by a woman is bound to leave a mark, isn’t it ?
I die on the 16th of April 1989, at the dawn of my 93rd anniversary and at the twilight of a full life.
Article write by Sophie Astrabie