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Daniel Cordier, one of France’s last surviving WWII heroes and prolific gay art dealer, dies aged 100

Emma Powys Maurice November 24, 2020
Daniel Cordier

Daniel Cordier pictured in 2014 (Jean-Luc PETIT/Gamma-Rapho/ Getty)

Daniel Cordier, a gay art dealer and one of the last surviving operatives of the wartime French Resistance, has passed away at the age of 100.

His death on Friday leaves only one survivor among the 1,038 men and women who received the title “Compagnons de la Libération”, or Heroes of the Resistance, after World War Two.

The news was confirmed by the Ministry of Armed Forces and president Emmanuel Macron, who said in a statement: “When France was in peril, he and his fellow fighters took all the risks so that France stayed true to itself. We owe them our freedom and our honour.”

Born in the southwestern city of Bordeaux on 10 August, 1920, Cordier was just 19 years old when Paris surrendered to the Nazis and he fled to join the Gaullist Free French movement in London.

There he remained until a few weeks before his 22nd birthday, when he was parachuted into France as a radio operative.

The course of Cordier’s life changed on 30 July, when he was ordered to take some papers to Jean Moulin, the leader of the Resistance. It seems he made a good impression as Moulin appointed him as his secretary the very next day.

The two worked together planning sabotage operations against the German forces until Moulin’s arrest by the Gestapo in June 1943.

It was Moulin who initiated him into the world of modern art, and after the war Cordier embarked on a new career as a prominent art dealer.

He soon amassed a collection of work by artists including Georges Braque, Chaïm Soutine, Hans Hartung, Jacques Villon, Dado and many others. He began exhibiting them in the 50s, and between 1956 and 1964 his gallery in Rue de Miromesnil was one of the most important in Paris.

Cordier kept his sexuality a closely-guarded secret for most of his life and it wasn’t until the late 1990s that he discreetly came out as gay.

He later explained in his 2009 autobiography Alias Caracalla that being gay was “utterly unthinkable” when he was young because “the hatred towards homosexuality was terrible”.

Daniel Cordier received the final honour of his life this June, when the British ambassador to France awarded him an OBE. Prime minister Boris Johnson personally paid tribute to his “courage and sacrifice in defending ourselves and the whole world against fascism”.

More: France, obituary, WWII veterans

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