Sunday, October 2, 2016

Eric Stiebel, My Father

In July of 1911 a doctor and his wife had a little boy who grew up in their home town of Frankfurt am Main, Germany.  He went to school in Frankfurt and then, following the German system attended colleges in Frankfurt, Munich & Berlin.  One day in 1933 he was told that he would have to leave school because he was Jewish and shortly thereafter he left Germany.  When his American-born son asked him how he knew it was time to get out he replied, “when I was thrown out of school I knew that I was not wanted” and that was all I ever heard from him about that experience.

Eric Stiebel ready for University

He did, however, impart another interesting lesson from his experience in his homeland.  He told me, “It can happen here” which was a shocking statement to a child growing up in the United States.  Frankly, I remembered it but could not fully comprehend or internalize it until the 21st century when I watched a fair percentage of my country turn on all Muslims.

The two senior partners in our family art dealership moved to establish the firm in Amsterdam. My father moved to Paris where his brother had already established a private art dealership in the 1920’s because he loved everything French.  There was one problem, however, visa issues.  You could only stay five months on a travel visa so every five months my father went from Paris to London and then back again.  My mother joined him in Paris where they were married in 1937.

As you may have gathered my father was the youngest member of the firm and Intelligently his cousin, Saemy Rosenberg, had set up a company in New York in anticipation of the necessity of leaving Europe and in 1939, seeing the writing on the wall they sent my father to New York, to wrest the firm from the lawyers who had ben the nominal officers and set up the business.  The “office” was my parents’ apartment and because it had to represent the new art dealers in town they were allocated enough for an apartment on Central Park South.  I was born in 1944 pushing the business out of our two-room abode to a gallery upstairs in an office building on 57th Street.  The original space on the back of the building eventually expanded to the entire fifth floor.

I asked my father what he did during the war and he said, “mostly work with lawyers to prove that my relatives were vital to this country’s interests.”  Soon, however, a great deal of art was pouring in from Europe and he and his partners, who he had gotten into the country via Mexico and various countries in South America, had to start to field all the requests from cash starved Europeans and the demands of the American Museums who were eager to collect old masters and other European art.

My father was the consummate European Gentleman.  Like in any store or gallery we usually gravitate to the person that we believe will be the greatest help and many clients gravitated to Eric Stiebel just because of his calm and dignified matter.

Whenever the doorbell rang in the 57th Street gallery our secretary (today known as an executive assistant) would go to the door and announce who was there.  The first thing that my father would do was pull a slip of paper out of his pocket and write down who it was, so that he could report to my mother that evening.  She usually demanded that he repeat the conversations verbatim!  Today he might have emailed.  I actually caught him taking the time to write his note when Jackie Kennedy was announced.  The Secret Service agent waited outside in the hall.

In the film we made of the history of the firm in 1989 in celebration of 50 years in the United States my father said,  “I definitely have enjoyed my life as an art dealer tremendously.  Whenever somebody asks me… I say that I don’t know any other profession which brings you in touch with beautiful objects and also with the most interesting people, constantly.”


  1. What a great story Gerald. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. What a great story. Your father was a wonderful man! That photo of your parents was uncanny because your dad looked a little like mine from that period!
    Love reading your posts, David