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The Importance of the Art Dealer
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 on his own. Yet for the most part, expect for perhaps their name over the doors of their galleries, these crucial individuals usually go unrecognised. Some, like Alfred Stieglitz are 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 were. Kahnweiler and Vollard were, of course, 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.

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 Pissarro to prominence and financial success. But he also had an uncanny ability to spot new trends. His gallery on the Rue Lafitte was the first to give Paul CÚzanne 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 of contemporary collectors then parcel them out to his favourite clients. He was something of a cantankerous sort to deal with, often gruffly talking his clients out of what they really wanted in favour of work by another artist whom he wanted to promote. His "gallery" looked more like a second-hand shop or warehouse rather than the elite showcases we are accustomed to today.

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. He was Picasso's favourite 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 said to have made Picasso, but it was Kahnweiler that first began handling his work and it was he who became a close friend and confident over the years. When hard times came for artists during the 1930s, even though he had to close his gallery, he set up a fund that, in return for their work, he was able to pay his struggling artist friends a meagre allowance, in effect managing 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 this kind of help, but for many others, such as Chagall, Miro, and Gris, Kahnweiler was a godsend.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
12 December 1998


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