Here is a Jackie Wullschlager’s list of the most important art dealers of the 20th Century. And how could you argue with it? But if you were to go deeper, who else would you add to this list?
Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939)
Born in the French colony of La Réunion, Vollard came to Paris to study law and opened a gallery in 1893. Before 1914, he exhibited Manet, Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin. His game was to buy low and play slow, sitting on works for years before selling high to collectors such as Albert Barnes and Gertrude Stein. He was famous for his vanity – all his artists painted him – and greedy appetite. He died in a car crash in Versailles.
Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler (1884-1979)
“What would have become of us if Kahnweiler hadn’t had a business sense?” Picasso asked. The German stockbroker’s Paris gallery, launched in 1907, became the cradle of cubism: he gave Braque his first exhibition, and represented Picasso, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger. He was passionately committed to his artists, whom he visited daily, and was an eminent art historian. He survived exile in Switzerland during the first world war and, as a Jew, went into hiding in France during Nazi occupation.
Aimé Maeght (1906-1981)
Orphaned in the first world war, Maeght moved from French Flanders to the Côte d’Azur and ran a bookshop in Cannes during the second world war, sending supplies to keep his elderly frail neighbour, the artist Pierre Bonnard, alive. Encouraged by Matisse, he opened his Paris gallery in 1946 and brought Miró, Giacometti, Braque and Chagall to his stable.
Leo Castelli (1907-1999)
Of Italian-Austro-Hungarian Jewish parentage, Castelli arrived in New York from Trieste in Italy and opened his gallery on East 77th Street in 1957, initially showing European work but soon becoming the powerhouse behind American pop art, minimalism and conceptual art. He was the first to sell Andy Warhol’s soup can paintings; he also represented Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Donald Judd, and Dan Flavin.
Ernst Beyeler (1921- )
The son of a railway worker, Beyeler was assistant at an antiquarian bookshop in Basel, which he took over when the owner died in 1945. By 1951 he concentrated exclusively on works of art, and through legendary negotiating skills and brinkmanship acquired works by Klee, Cézanne, Giacometti, Matisse and – through friendship with the artist – Picasso. The Galerie Beyeler was Europe’s leading postwar gallery of classical modernism.
Jackie Wullschlager’s Top Dealers of the 20th Century (Financial Times)