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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Art Dealers

One of the key elements in any artist success, especially success on a large scale, is that of the art dealer.  The right dealer can bring an artist fame and fortune to a degree that artist could never achieve their own.  Yet for the most part, expect for perhaps their name over the doors of their galleries, these crucial individuals usually go unrecognized.  In the past, some dealers, like Alfred Stieglitz, were really artists in their own right.  Others, such as Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler or Ambroise Vollard were simply very shrewd businessmen able to move as easily amongst temperamental artists as wealthy, fastidious collectors.  Kahnweiler and Vollard were rivals.  Each had their own stable of artists and in a few cases, if their names were big enough, artist sometimes were able to deal with both these powerful promoters.

Ambroise Vollard, 1910,
Pablo Picasso
Vollard was born in 1865 and cut his teeth on the risky trade in Impressionist paintings in the 1880s, elevating artists such as Degas, Renoir, and Pissaro to prominence and financial success.  Also, he also had an uncanny ability to spot new trends.  His gallery on the Rue Lafitte was the first to give Paul Cezanne major exhibition space, and Vollard was responsible for bringing Paul Gauguin's Tahitian natives back to Paris to hang on his walls.  He was known to buy out large collections from contemporary collectors then parcel them out to his favorite clients.  He was something of a cantankerous sort to deal with, often gruffly talking his clients out of what they really wanted in favor of work by another artist whom he wanted to promote.  His "gallery" looked more like a secondhand shop or warehouse rather than the elite, showcases we are accustomed to today.

Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, 1910,
Pablo Picasso

Kahnweiler, on the other hand, was younger than Vollard and first took up artists such as Braque, Picasso, Chagall, and others, only to find himself having to share these rising young stars with the ruthless and powerful Vollard.  Kahnweiler was Picasso's favorite dealer however, and the one to whom he first offered many of his finest works.  And, while Vollard dealt mostly with paintings, Kahnweiler often handled Picasso's ceramics, prints, and sculpture.  Vollard is often said to have made Picasso, but it was Kahnweiler who first began handling his work and it was he who became Picasso's close friend and confident over the years.  When hard times came for artists during the 1930s, even though he had to close his gallery, Kahnweiler set up a fund from which, in return for their work, he was able to pay his struggling artist friends a meager allowance. In effect, he managed their finances, as well as their careers, while allowing them to survive and continue painting.  By this time, Picasso, of course, was well beyond needing such help, but for many others, such as Chagall, Miro, and Gris, Kahnweiler's financial aid was a godsend.

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