06 July 2021

The greatest art dealers in Europe and the U.S

Alex Greenberger discussed History’s 10 Dealers Who Changed the Way Art Is Shown and Sold. I’ve already liked 8 of these deal­ers in my blog, so I thank Alex for his other 2 stars and photos.

Edith Halpert and some of her artists,
in a photograph for Life magazine, 1952.

Paris-born Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) saw himself the first Impress­ion­ist art dealer, cementing the C19th movement’s place within art history. Durand-Ruel risked taking on Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Camille Pis­sarro, supporting their scandalising port­rayals of French society. In London amid the 1871 Franco-Prussian War, Dur­and-Ruel began buying up Monet and Pissarro’s works, then Édouard Manet’s. The dealer found inn­ovative ways of boosting the rep­utations of his artists, with solo shows and bid up the prices of Impres­s­ionists works at auction. When he opened in New York, he found a market more receptive to Impress­ionism than France.

Some consider Joseph Duveen (1869-1939) to be the world’s first mega-dealer . A smart businessman who worked with art historian Bernard Berenson to locate masterpieces, Duveen assembled a coll­ect­or network that included Mellon and Rockefeller, and was able to make his New York and London galleries famous. His American collec­t­ors thrived, even during the Depression. Duveen paid $4 million for Rodolphe Kann’s collection in 1905!! He made profits by selling these works to collect­ors eg Rembrandt’s Ar­is­totle and Homer (1653), now in Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the early ’20s, he sold Thomas Gains­­borough’s Blue Boy (c1770) to the Huntingtons for $778,000. The most expens­ive paint­ing ever sold, it’s now a cornerstone of their San Marino Cal Museum. He died just before Nazism.


Influential collector Peggy Guggenheim (1898–1979) opened Guggenheim Jeune Gallery in London in 1938 and staged notable shows by Marcel Duchamp and Jean Arp. Fearing Nazism, this Jewish star soon closed her gallery, relocating to US. She estab­lished a modern New York gallery, Art of This Century. The gallery was not only commercial, and it was short-lived - just 5 years in the 1940s. Yet it still became the choice gallery for the cult­ural elite, and was cred­ited with supporting women art­is­ts, surrealists and abst­ract­ exp­ress­ion­ists. Jack­son Pollock got his first solo show in 1943. In 1947, Guggenheim relocated to Venice.

Buying art for dad’s business at 18, Frenchman Paul Rosenberg (1881–1959) impressed Paris’ art scene in the early C20th. He signed exclusive deals with leading Cubist artists Picasso, Braque and Léger, becoming agent for these artists after Paris dealer Kahn­weiler. Paint­ings by Théodore Géricault and Gustave Courbet mixed with fresh works by Marie Laurencin and Amedeo Modigliani. In 1940 the Nazis sought to disen­fr­anchise Jewish Rosenberg and his gallery, taking 400 of his paintings and seizing control of his Paris venue. After WW2 ended, Rosenberg re-opened in New York.


Germ­an-born Daniel-Henry Kahnweil­er (1884–1979) had the finest Cubist art works in his early C20th Paris gallery. He succeeded via the exclusive deals he did with Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris and Fer­nand Lég­er. Despite the critics, Kahn­weiler appreciated their quasi-abstractions’ spec­ial qual­ity. He was closest to Picasso, whose studio he first visited in 1907, especially the Les Dem­ois­elles d’Avig­non, and inc­luded him in the gallery’s inaugural show. And he showed Fauvist art­ists, Maurice Vlaminck and André Derain. Kahnweil­er’s gallery thrived until WW1 erupted in 1914, when his vast hold­ings were dispers­ed by the French govern­ment, until 1920. As a Jew, the Nazis later forced him to flee Paris.

Unlike the others, Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946)’s first job was not as a dealer; he was a leading photographer who showed his work and his coll­eag­ues’ work in his gall­ery. 291 opened in New York as requested by photographic art­ist Edward Stei­chen & it became an avant-garde destination. Aug­uste Ro­d­in and Henri Matisse had their first New York solo shows there, as did the new Am­erican modern­ists. But the gallery’s fin­ances became increasingly untenab­le, so Stieglitz closed up in 1917. Its final exhibition was a solo show by his next wife, Georgia O’Keeffe.

Ambroise Vollard (1866–1939) ?set the style of avant-garde artist-dealer-patron relations. He continued where Durand-Ruel left, focusing on Post-Impressionists Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh. But Vollard was a businessman. In 1895, Vollard refused to buy Gauguin’s paintings of Tahiti, en­rag­ing the artist. Then Vollard bought up major works by Gau­g­uin that were on the market at top prices. Having made the Post-Impressionist famous, Vollard sent the art­ist some money when he made sales of Gauguin’s art! Cézanne, a little known artist when Vollard began showing his works, became a hit with collect­ors. Georges Rouault signed an exclusive deal with the gallery after WW2.

Born in Odessa, Russian Edith Gregor Halpert (1900–70) opened Our Gallery in 1926 in Greenwich Village, when there were few other comparable sites. Later renamed the Downtown Gallery, its success was th­anks­ to Hal­p­ert’s hard work. Feeling like a Jewish Russian outsider, she explicitly supp­orted the growth of Am­erican artists who’d been side-lined in favour of European modernism. Hers was the only New York gallery dedicated exc­l­usively and successfully to contemp­or­ary American art.

.Under her aegis, artists like Ben Shahn thrived; a collector base for U.S contemporary art also grew, with Abby Rockefeller a major client. She championed genres that were given short shrift by U.S’s biggest in­stitut­ions: folk art, coloured artists’ art, overtly pol­it­ical work. She particularly supported Black artists with the 1941 exhibition Am­erican Negro Art. Her Negro Art Fund aimed to place works by Black art­ists in museum collections. Halpert focused on those out­side the mainstream, a model for generations of women dealers and curat­ors.

Julien Levy Gallery

Julien Levy (1906–81) ventured into the arts while a student at Harvard, classmate in the mid-1920s with Alfred H Barr and Philip Johnson. Then Levy became an avid art promoter and collector and, hav­ing worked in rare books, opened his gallery in 1931. Its first show was a tribute to Alfred Stieg­litz, the driving force be­hind Levy’s ph­otography passion.

.Postwar New York stole Paris’ thunder and be­c­ame the art capital of the world. In Levy’s displays in the 1930s-40s Surr­eal­ist art thrived, and photography and film were given promin­ence. Marcel Duch­amp, Sal­va­d­­or Dalí. Alberto Giac­om­et­ti and Frida Kahlo were mainstays, and pop cultural objects sat along­side classy art. In time Lee Miller and René Magritte had their major New York solo shows there. But Levy was more than a top dealer. He crossed the Atlantic with Duchamp and introduced Tanguy to New York. He con­ceived the idea for Dalí's Birth of Venus pavilion at the World's Fair, and shared a summer house with Max Ernst and André Bret­on. In 1948, loved New York artist Arshile Gorky suic­id­ed. In response to his friend’s death and the rise of Abstract Ex­p­res­s­ion­ism, Levy closed his gallery, retired and abandoned art dealing.

German banker Karl Nierendorf (1889–1947) met Swiss artist Paul Klee, who convinced Nierendorf to take up a career in art deal­ing. Karl open­ed his first gallery in Cologne with broth­er Josef in 1920 and quickly proved an astute art dealer and patron, org­anising exhibitions, lec­tures and concerts there. He specialis­ed particularly in works by Expressionists, including members of Der Blaue Reiter/Blue Rider. He soon moved shop to Düsseldorf and took over JB Neumann’s Berlin gallery, Graphisches Kabinett, when Neumann left for New York in 1923.

Galerie Nierendorf had a very strong relationship with Otto Dix, Vasily Kandinsky and Klee, who spent much time work­ing in Germany. However in the late 1920s and into the mid-1930s, global financial markets suffered and Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party assum­ed power. In 1936 he left for the US, and encouraged by the art market there, Karl Nierendorf opened his eponymous gallery in New York in Jan 1937.

He worked within the growing émigré community in New York to promote artists whose work was suppressed in Europe, including Lyonel Fein­in­ger, Kandinsky and Klee, and helped to launch the careers of em­er­g­ing American artists: Perle Fine, Adolph Gottlieb and Louise Nevelson.


Deb said...

Why did Peggy Guggenheim divorce Max Ernst? They were both so well connected to artists and collectors.

Hels said...


Good question! I can think of only two reasons why Guggenheim didn't stay married to an important artist
1. Peggy Guggenheim didn't like Dadaism and Surrealism, and wouldn't have wanted to be patronising and dealing in his work. Or
2. She didn't like Max Ernst and only stayed married to him until he got permanent citizenship in the US.
But what a shame. Post-divorce Ernst received the Grand Prize for painting at the Venice Biennale, and a major retrospective of his work was soon held in New York.

DUTA said...

I guess not every art dealer has adequate art education and background. If one loves art, though, one will dedicate oneself to learning about it and so become part of a fascinating profession -that of buying and selling art works, connecting between artists, collectors, galleries, and museums.

Hels said...


Being an artist, an art dealer or a gallery owner was so risky, financially speaking. I can imagine that their parents strongly recommended their children go into more respectable, more reliable businesses!

Think of artists who were very talented. Toulouse-Lautrec had to live in a miserable hole with cancan dancers and died from alcoholism and syphilis. Amedeo Modigliani lived most of his life in poverty and died at 35 from tubercular meningitis. Egon Schiele and his wife lived a life of abject poverty and starved to death in their late 20s.

Dealers were more likely to lose their livelihoods in WW1 or from Nazism later on.

Rachel Phillips said...

I read Vollard's autobiography quite recently, coicidentally. I just looked for my copy of the book but believe I gave it away to my History of Art tutor. It was actually an extremely boring book because althought at first it was quite an interesting day to day diary of deals that he made and artists he met it then turned into something of a ledger. Having been a stockbroker myself by profession I admire him for his desire to deal and make money and spot a good deal and that is exactly what he did. It was difficult to see that he had an eye for art because he liked it, it was more for art that he knew he could make money from. I note you mention Peggy Guggenheim and Max Ernst and I cannot read that without thinking of poor Leonora Carrington who was swept off her feet by Ernst only to be abandoned by him when he left with Guggenheim and Carrington ended up in an asylum in Spain.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, Many of the great dealers in art and other fine objects wrote books, and they make great armchair adventures. Imagine handling all those fine paintings and rare objects, one after another. And the adventures they had in buying collections and seeking out rarities! And of course, collectively they influenced the course of art and culture. Old auction and sales catalogs are fun too--they make you want to turn back the clock, at least for one day, so you can go back and buy at those prices!

Hels said...


I am delighted you know about Max Ernst and Leonora Carrington as a] she was a surrealist artist herself, and b] she also needed a lot of help from art dealers and other artists. They met a couple of years before WW2 broke out, moved to Southern France together and collaborated in their art. The dealer who saved Ernst was of course Peggy Guggenheim but the ambassador who saved Carrington was Renato Leduc.

Hels said...


I identify with the dealers much more than the artists since I love art history and connoisseurship, but could not paint a straight line if my life depended on it. I suspect the dealers, gallery owners and academics also loved collecting, admiring and studying paintings, sculptures, gold work etc but had to make a proper living. So as you say, collectively they greatly influenced the course of art and culture, usually for good.

Andrew said...

I like the sound of the very progressive Edith Halpert.

Hels said...


When Greenberger wrote about the 10 important dealers who changed the art world, Edith Halpert was one I knew very little about. But last year "Edith Halpert and the Rise of American Art" showed 100 works of American modern and folk art that had starred in _her_ Downtown Gallery from 1927-73. Max Weber, Georgia O'Keeffe, Ben Shahn and other artists agreed Halpert was amazing.

Luiz Gomes said...

Boa tarde minha querida amiga. Sua matéria ficou maravilhosa e espetacular.

Hels said...


I think we know a lot about the artists, but much less about the most important art dealers and gallery owners. Thus we might not be aware of how art was shown, sold and influenced.

bazza said...

It's also important to remember the place of certain art critics in the influence of an art movement. For instance Clement Greenberg had a big part in the promotion of Modernism and in particular of Jackson Pollack. I was drawn to his writing because he looked like Phil Silvers as Sergeant Bilko!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fervently fearsome Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Hels said...


quite right... but the influence art critics had was not necessarily for the good. For example France's leading art critic, Louis Leroy, published really horrible reviews of the early Impressionist Exhibitions. The artists struggled for years as a result.

British critic Roger Fry, on the other hand, promoted Cezanne as the founder of an important new Modernist aesthetic using the purest terms of structural design. In fact Fry warmly reviewed a lot of Post-Impressionist artists in the UK.

Joe said...


can you please add Karl Nierendorf to your list of influential art dealers in Europe and then in America. His splendid career is summarised on Guggenheim's page: https://www.guggenheim.org/history/karl-nierendorf

Hels said...


Many thanks. I have found no mention of Karl Nierendorf in my blog over the last X number of years, but Guggenheim does record his successes beautifully. Why Guggenheim? When Nierendorf died suddenly in 1947 without a will, his estate passed into the courts and the Guggenheim Foundation purchased the entire Nierendorf estate, adding many important Expressionist, Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist works to its permanent collection. Perfect!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - I know about Paul Durand-Ruel and the exchange of art in lieu of payment by the French in WW1 ... a fascinating story set up by Maynard Keynes - I hope sometime to learn more about art and 'the industry' ... and thus sometime will be back - cheers Hilary

Hels said...


By 1922, Durand-Ruel had purchased thousands of paintings from Renoir, Monet, Pissarro and fewer works by Degas, Sisley and Mary Cassatt. Of course he wanted to make a good living and he could see that his favourites were finally going to be highly desirable. But Durand-Ruel really liked his lads and had always worked hard to look after their interests, even in very bad times. Bless his heart.

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Hels said...

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