Pioneers of the Global Art Market, Paris-Based Dealer Networks, 1850-1950

Pioneers of the Global Art Market, Paris-Based Dealer Networks, 1850-1950
Christel H. Force, Editor

Bloomsbury, London, UK, 2020
288 pp., illus. 16 col; 56 b/w. Trade, £90.00; PDF eBook and EPUB, £64.80
ISBN: 978-1-5013-4276-9; ISBN: 978-1-5013-4277-6; ISBN: 978-1-5013-4278-3.

May 2021

Bloomsbury Academic’s recent Pioneers of the Global Art Market: Paris-Based Dealer Networks, 1850-1950 forms part of a series, “Contextualizing Art Markets,” launched by Kathryn Brown of Loughborough University. The series presents original research that examines the scope and function of art markets within the broader interdisciplinary context of institutional practices, knowledge networks, social structures, collecting activities, marketing, entrepreneurial and creative strategies. The current volume, edited by Christel H. Force, assembles 14 essays inspired by a London conference session entitled “Creating Markets” in 2016. Its aim is to delineate pervasive transactional relationships and patterns of exchange during a period of exponential growth in the market for modern art through which the dispersion of modernism radiated from Paris-based dealer networks through associated gallerists in other countries. Its central argument is that while Paris was considered the art capital of the world from 1850-1950, transnational dealer networks sustained the modern art market and were key to its success, creating in some ways an alternative trajectory of modern art’s emergence. To the extent that modernism is comprised of economic, political, ideological, social, and personal aspects, all of which contributed to its canonical framework, the volume offers insight into worldwide webs of peer relationships and dealer initiatives that contributed to the cultural and economic appreciation of modern art.

Based primarily on dealer records and archival sources, contributing authors examine the workings of a group of major dealers such as Paul Durand-Ruel, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Paul Guillaume, Heinrich Thannhauser, Walther Halvorsen, Paul Rosenberg, Etienne Bignou and Valentine Dudensing together with their “discrete clusters” of interacting players in other countries. Seeking largely to identify trade patterns and collaborative business relationships that emanated from Paris to foreign associates engaged in the representation and sale of modern art during the later nineteenth and early twentieth century, these separate studies inform larger issues that include: the role of the dealer in the monetization of aesthetic production; the formation of markets for products for which there is no preexisting demand; internationalism as it pertains to peer art dealer networks; integrated circuits of collecting, exhibition and museum installation; dealer agency in the dissemination of the conceptual bases of modern art; transitions from use value to exchange value and the commodification of art; and professional relationships and contractual arrangements that both enabled and some ways constricted the evolution of modern art. Convinced of the primary position of dealers in the construction of modern art’s value, Force notes: “The difference between an antiquarian who sells rare old objects of undisputed value and a modern-art dealer—that is, a champion of innovation who promotes unrecognized, difficult art—amounts to the challenge, the risk, and the merit of creating value where there is none. The work of dealers who enabled and championed trailblazers in the period under consideration (when modernist art was largely ridiculed) is unique & commendable by virtue of the vision, dedication, & resolve it required.  Whether they shielded and supported misfits or merely sold contemporary art on the secondary market, profit was not their sole motivation as there were easier, less risky lines of business.” Though she acknowledges the critical function of critics, publishers, poets, auction houses, museums, art associations and other artists as the “machinery for legitimacy,” she emphasizes that without their dealers, artists would have struggled longer and without conduits.

While most essays place primary emphasis on the interwar period from c.1920 to 1940 in which modern art realized its most dramatic ascent, periods prior to World War I, including the last quarter of the nineteenth century when the dealer-critic system emerged from the French Academy and its official Salon structure, figure into histories of some of the more distinctive dynasties whose ancestries may be traced to antique shops, legal offices and financial empires: Bernheim-Jeune, Wildenstein, Seligman, Petit, Thannhauser, Rosenberg.  Paolo Serafini outlines strategies utilized by early Paris-based entrepreneurs acting in concert with New York galleries to establish dealer monopolies over individual artists and schools, consensus valuation, joint marketing, strategic placements, co-ownership and rights of first refusal among coalition partners to secure dealer interest. Forced to look beyond France for new markets after the collapse of the French stock exchange in 1882, Jennifer Thompson details Durand-Ruel’s ventures into London, Boston, Rotterdam and Berlin—later Pittsburgh, Chicago, Denver, Brussels, Hamburg—where he delegated other artists such as Max Liebermann to act as representatives, borrowed galleries or set up temporary exhibitions in hotel rooms. Eventually making breakthroughs among collectors such as Charles Ephrussi, Carl Bernstein and Hugo von Tschudi, Director of the Berlin National Gallery, he was recognized in 1920 with France’s Légion d’Honneur.

Using Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire series to model the timing and geographic dispersion of French modernist art in relation to currency fluctuations, David Challis analyzes the translocation of French artworks between 1920 and 1950 due to underlying economic exigencies: the need to fund war efforts and accelerate postwar reconstruction.  Expansive monetary maneuvers responded to rampant inflation, downward currency spirals, capital flight and diminished private wealth. Portable assets were monetized in exchange for more stable foreign currencies with many Paris dealers forced to sell down their inventories, especially after the collapse of the US stock market in 1929. These conditions created advantageous opportunities for collectors such as Albert C. Barnes, a currency opportunist in a booming export market.

David-Henry Kahnweiler’s early reliance on peers outside of France such as Alfred Flechtheim, Paul Cassirer and the Thanhausers pioneered a calculated strategy of scarcity in defiance of French resistance to Cubism through foreign exhibitions such as the Cologne Sonderbund of 1912 which provoked publicity highlighting Picasso’s absence from French exhibitions.  After Kahnweiler signed the Washington Square Gallery in New York as agent in early 1914, Vérane Tasseau documents numerous acquisitions of his artists held under exclusive contract. Though he was urged to transfer his inventory to New York at the outbreak of war, his failure to do so resulted in its confiscation as enemy property to be later auctioned off for a pittance. After World War II, Kahnweiler resumed Picasso’s representation through the Galerie Louise Leiris where he continued to sell French art largely to the New York market. Other chapters explore the careers, partnerships and activities of modernism’s principle entrepreneurs:  Paul Guillaume, whose journal Les Arts à Paris promoted modern and African art from 1918-1935, with reviews and articles he wrote himself on artists such as De Chirico, Matisse, Derain, Lipchitz and Modigliani; Heinrich Thannhauser, more intricately linked to major museums and international galleries than others, whose tragic personal history led to the bequest of his collection to the Guggenheim Museum in 1963; the Norwegian artist Walther Halvorsen who disseminated French avant-garde art throughout Scandinavia as a de facto agent for French galleries; the entrepreneurial Étienne Bignou who introduced French art to English collectors through London’s Reid-Lefèvre Gallery; and Valentine Dudensing in New York, who through his relationships with Pierre Matisse and Paul Guillaume’s widow secured works that became the cornerstone of major American museum collections. In sections written by Yaëlle Biro, Valerie Nikola Ender, Christel Force, Christina Brandberg, Mary Kate Cleary, Frances Fowle, Diana Kostyrko and Julia May Boddewyn, one also finds the names of prominent collectors: Albert C. Barnes, John Quinn, Duncan Philips, Chester Dale and Lillie P. Bliss, persons who either eventually started their own museums or donated works to local institutions. To these names can be added Joseph Pulitzer, Jr. Walter P. Chrysler, Solomon Guggenheim whose collections would one day contribute to the canon for European modernism cultivated in the United States.

This edition takes its place within a well-developed body of scholarship in art market and collection studies established by such authors as Malcolm Gee, Robert Jensen, Harrison and Cynthia White, Nicholas Green, Linda Whiteley, Jan Dirk Baetens and Raymonde Moulin. Through their work, the wider scope and depth of the field in which modern art dissemination and reception occurred has been amply contextualized. The collection of essays contained in Pioneers offers a more tightly focused micro-study of particular circuits active within an international sphere of dealer representation, the methods employed, operational networks, and impact upon the careers, valuations and status of the work marketed. Dealer-centered, it places diminished emphasis on overarching historical, national, social and critical structures that frame and inform the context of modern art.  Such extrinsic variables include initiatives launched among artists themselves through independent loans and exhibitions, collector relations, gifts via artist networks and family relationships as supplemental channels of distribution and insider ‘buzz.’ These overlapping currents contributed proportionately to modernism’s prominence, especially seen against complex ideologies, values and perceptions that evolved in tandem with seismic shifts in socio-political circumstances or were abruptly translocated to alternative cultural and interpretive contexts. The conference proceedings format in which this collection is presented accentuates a field marked by fragmentary records, as it rewards investigations that disclose evidence of multinational correspondence and commerce.

The oft-cited aphorism that Leonardo da Vinci died in the arms of the king of France, whereas Watteau died in the arms of his dealer presents one angle of vision in a composition comprised of multiple viewpoints. It is well to recall Kahnweiler’s remark to Francis Crémieux cited in Tasseau’s account of Kahnweiler’s partnerships: “And remember, foreign relations were always the basis of my activity.” Among the many salient details to emerge from the records provided are two provisions that counter the general shift from philanthropy to market considerations that occurred during the years surrounding the first World War:  a clause in a Halvorsen-Paul Rosenberg contract that stipulates sales only to citizens of neutral or allied countries; and in a time of wartime deprivation, a report that the sizeable profits from sales realized through Scandinavian channels were distributed among its artists, with 10,000 francs given to charities.