by Marc Masurovsky
MA-B 702 is the alphanumeric designator assigned to a watercolor by the American-born artist, Frank Myers Boggs, of a scenery in Honfleur which he painted most likely no later than in 1921. The English translation of the German title is roughly, “Sailor off the coast of Honfleur.”
The MA-B symbol stands for Moebel-Aktion Bilder, that section of the misnamed “Furniture Operation” which focused on the confiscation of works of art—paintings and works on paper--during WWII. The M-Aktion, as it is also known, which began in earnest in spring of 1942, was the brainchild of Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler’s minister of enlightenment who created the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the largest State-run agency ever created whose sole mission was to confiscate and plunder mostly cultural property in conquered territories. M-Aktion operated in Western Europe. Its purpose was to empty out all residences where Jews once lived who either had emigrated, gone into hiding, or had been arrested, incarcerated, deported, and either murdered or enslaved during Nazi rule.
MA-B 702 was most likely removed from the place where it “lived” with its owner somewhere in the Paris region either in 1941 or 1942. It was stored in an auxiliary center run by the M-Aktion bureaucracy (affectionately referred to as a M-Aktion Lager) and brought to the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris which served as the central clearinghouse and sorting station for confiscated cultural objects and much more. There, it was inventoried on 9 March 1943 together with 45 other paintings and works on paper also confiscated under M-Aktion.
On the back of this Boggs watercolor is a dedicace to “Madame Daltroff.” It is dated 1921 and tagged at Honfleur, a quiet fishing village and beach resort on the Normandie coast.
All objects stolen during M-Aktion were inventoried without the name of the person from whose residence the object was confiscated. Hence they are “anonymous”, “without an owner,” and some might consider them to be “heirless.” The intent of the M-Aktion agents was not to waste time with detailed cataloguing operations that would link a confiscated object to an owner. It was wholesale plunder, not retail plunder during which confiscated objects are assigned to an identifiable owner, at least the one that the confiscating agents presume is the rightful owner.
If we want to know who owned the Boggs watercolor known as MA-B 702, our only starting point is the dedicace which provides us with a name—Madame Daltroff--a date—1921—and a place—Honfleur. We can quickly dismiss the date and the place because they do not appear to have any relationship to the ownership question. However Mrs. Daltroff retains our attention. Who was she?
A quick digital poke tells us that she was the business partner (and maybe more) of Ernest Daltroff, a perfume executive who lived in the Paris region up until the late 1930s. He acquired a small perfume manufacturing operation based on rue Rossini from Anne-Marie Caron. The new company became known as Maison Caron. Mrs. Daltroff was actually the pet name given to Félicie Wanpouille, described by various sources as the artistic director of Maison Caron, Mr. Daltroff’s muse, and a fashion and brand designer. Regardless, she became the soul of “Maison Caron” which released many popular fragrances in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s. The most popular was a fragrance for men called “Pour un homme” released in 1936. It affirmed Maison Caron as a respectable brand, not only in France but also in the United States, through its New York subsidiary.
With the drums of war beating at the doors of France, Ernest Daltroff, who was of Jewish descent, sought refuge in North America, some say in Canada, others in the United States, and died in 1941.
Back to our watercolor.
We can be more or less certain that "Madame Daltroff" aka Félicie Wanpouille owned or was somehow “involved” with the Boggs watercolor from 1921 to an unknown date and was obviously familiar enough with the artist for him to sign a dedicace to her.
The context of “Maison Caron” becomes important for two reasons: 1/ Ernest Daltroff, a Jewish businessman, escaped before France was overrun by German troops and 2/ Maison Caron was run by Félicie Wanpouille. Difficult to say whether or not Mr. Daltroff had transferred ownership to her or simply the control of the House.
Enter from stage right, Michel Morsetti. Mr. Morsetti was the “nose” of “Maison Caron.” The one who could differentiate between hundreds of subtle olfactory hues and inflexions and create audacious, subtle, romantic, aggressive, subdued, perfumes both for men and women. Another individual in whom Ms. Wanpouille placed her trust, was Suzanne Saulnier, the authorized representative of Maison Caron who seemingly had wide latitude in the decision-making process.
Ms. Wanpouille married Jean Bergaud and, while still at the helm of Maison Caron, invested during the Vichy years in a very high-end women’s boutique at 10, place Vendome, one of the toniest addresses in Paris, then and now. She remained at Maison Caron throughout the German occupation of France, while Morsetti cranked out one perfume after another.
The postwar history of Maison Caron is of no concern to us since it will not tell us anything about MA-B 702.
So, what happened to the Boggs watercolor?
Several scenarios are conceivable, one as speculative as the other:
Who bought the watercolor? Let’s say that Mr. Daltroff acquired it and gave it to Ms. Wanpouille. A conceivable scenario judging by the closeness of their relationship.
The watercolor remained in Paris while Daltroff escaped. Was he still its owner? If it was a gift to Ms. Wanpouille, who does not appear to be of Jewish descent, why would the M-Aktion agents bother with it?
Let’s assume for a moment that she owned it. It is always plausible that she could have relegated the watercolor to the marketplace and sold it at auction or consigned it in a gallery. Boggs’ works were well-appreciated. They are not provocative works, they hang well and can be pleasing additions to well-appointed rooms in upper-middle class homes.
4/ for this work to become MA-B 702, there had to be a “Jewish” tie-in and the only one that we know of so far is Mr. Daltroff. It is conceivable that the painting hung in his apartment where he left it. If he owned his apartment, the Vichy regime would have placed seals on its doors after April 1941, an initial move signaling confiscation leading to liquidation and Aryanization. Maison Caron, if it remained under Jewish ownership—in Mr. Daltroff—would have been subject to Aryanization proceedings. The presence of a subsidiary in New York made it all the more attractive to the Vichy authorities and would have attracted notice from the German military administration. However, if Mr. Daltroff transferred ownership to Ms. Wanpouille with Ms. Saulnier and Mr. Morsetti firmly entrenched in the management and operation of the company, a successful one at that, all that was needed was to certify the Aryan status of the firm, free of “Jewish influence” and the liquidation/realization of any remaining shares in the hands of Mr. Daltroff.
The answers to some of the above questions can be found in the records of the Commissariat général aux questions juives. They are open and accessible to everyone either in Washington, DC, at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum or at the Shoah Memorial in Paris. One would also need to locate records which clarify the fate of Mr. Daltroff’s property as well as the legal status of Maison Caron from the time during the Vichy years. Perhaps, a search of trade registries in pre-1940 Paris might clarify the ownership question surrounding Maison Caron. There would be some records in the United States because of the presence of a subsidiary operating in New York. The US Department of the Treasury, its Foreign Funds Control division would have examined its operation as the American affiliate of an “enemy interest”.
Yes, I am assuming that Ernest Daltroff was the owner of the Boggs watercolor and that it remained in Paris for the ERR to seize as Jewish cultural property. But, as you know, anything is possible.