Ambroise Vollard

He was Paris's leading dealer, friend and mentor to history's finest artists, and owner of a unique, priceless collection. He was one of the most influential figures in modern art in Paris. A publisher, gallerist and collector, he worked with many of the greatest artists of the late 19th and 20th century, Renoir, Cézanne and Gaugin, and later, Picasso. He helped shape his promotion and establishing of the avant-garde artists of his day and of the previous generation. Beyond his work as a gallerist, he wrote artist biographies and encouraged many to take on new and extended projects.

Born in Réunion, a French colony in the Indian Ocean, Vollard arrived in Paris in 1895 as a student of law at his father’s behest, aged 21.

The city was in its first flush of Impressionism, intoxicated by a flurry of paintings in creamy yellow lights and grey-green shadows; their shimmering colours and sliding forms heralding a new strain of modernism, which seized him, he says in his autobiography, ‘like a blow to the stomach’.

A year later, having abandoned his studies, he gave the then unknown Cézanne his first show from modest premises on the rue Laffitte.

He recalled that ‘an innovator like Cézanne was considered a madman or an impostor, and even the avant-garde regarded him with contempt. On the spot, I managed to buy 150 canvases from him, almost his entire output.

 View of the 1904 Salon d'Automne, photograph by Ambroise Vollard, Salle Cézanne (Victor Choquet, Baigneuses, etc.)
 'I raised a great deal of money - my entire fortune went into it. And I anxiously wondered whether my audacity might not turn out to be the ruin of me. I didn’t even have enough money left over to frame the canvases decently.’

The show was a revelation and made reputation and fortune for both.

Pissarro wrote excitedly to his son: ‘I believe this dealer is the one we have been seeking, he likes only our school of painting or works by artists whose talents have developed along similar lines. He is very enthusiastic and knows his job.’

Vollard’s appetite and eye for undiscovered talent was voracious. Over his career, he exhibited the work of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso (whom he gave his first Paris show), Matisse (his first solo exhibition) and bought and sold works by Rouault, Derain and the Fauves, Degas, Renoir, Monet and Manet.

Renoir and Vollard 1918

He instigated a swap-shop style of trading. According to his meticulous account books, Picasso exchanged his works for those by Degas and Matisse. Degas and Renoir drew lots for a Cézanne. Kandinsky wanted a Rousseau but could not afford it. In 1913 Matisse pawned his wife’s emerald ring to purchase Cézanne’s Three Bathers.

Some complained he exploited them. Most valued him immeasurably.

Time and again we see evidence – letters, inscriptions and so on, bearing witness to his loyalty and generosity: ‘to my sympathetic slave-driver’ reads one of the more poignant, from Renoir, a lifelong friend.

By far the best monument to their esteem, though, can be found in the portraits by each and every artist that passed through his hands.

‘The most beautiful woman who ever lived,’ said Picasso, ‘has never had her portrait painted, drawn, or engraved any oftener than Vollard.’

by Jean Puy

By Pierre-Auguste Renoir - 1908
By Pablo Picasso - 1910
By Paul Cézanne

His gallery became a meeting point for all of bohemian Paris. He held dinners in his cellar, where he served creole curry to his guests who clamoured for invitations.

An anonymous photograph of diners at one of Vollard's celebrated bohemian soirees, which took place in the cellar of his gallery on rue Laffitte.

Brassai would later recall: ‘What joyful feasts, what parries and conferences, what planning sessions had been held there.’

The estate he left when he died on that July afternoon was vast. His cottage in Tremblay Sur Mer held some 10,000 artworks; Cézanne, Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Degas, Cassatt, Manet, Monet, stacked up, unframed, piled high and higgledy-piggledy under a layer of dust and in impressive disorder. The photographer Brassai, who visited him in 1936, reported only two occupiable rooms – a dining room and a bedroom – every other inch of space given over to storage.

Without direct heirs, the majority was divided between Madelaine de Galea, an alleged mistress, and his brother Lucien.

What happened next is hazy, complicated by war. Some were hidden in museums outside the city; Lucien appointed a dealer Martin Fabiani, in accordance with Ambroise’s will, who set about disposing of the rest.

At some point a shipment consigned for the United States was impounded by the British, only to leak on to the New York art market years afterwards.

Fabiani was later indicted as a collaborator, a ‘Corsican adventurer, gigolo and racetrack tout’ who traded art plundered by the Nazis to the gaggle of strange adventurers, gangsters and government officials in occupied France.

By 1948, the newspaper Ici Paris would cry ‘On a perdu la richissimes collections d’Ambroise Vollard!’ (we’ve lost the incredibly rich collection of Ambroise Vollard).

What no one knew, until recently, was that several hundred works ended up in the hands of a young Croatian Jew. Erich Slomovich had come to Paris in the mid-Thirties and become something of a protégé of the ageing Vollard.

Slomovich later told his mother that Vollard had given him the works to create a museum in Yugoslavia. But on his way there, the sound of German artillery thundering at the outskirts of Paris, he hurriedly deposited about 180 works in a vault at Société Generale.

Erich Slomovic with (clockwise from top left) Aristide Maillol, Pierre Bonnard, Marc Chagall, and Henri Matisse

A year later, he stashed the remainder behind a false wall in a farmhouse near Belgrade, just weeks before he was gassed, aged 27, in a converted truck.

The Belgrade stash was appropriated by the Yugoslav state, but the safe deposit box in Paris slept silently, unknown, unopened, until 1979, when French law allowed the bank to reclaim unpaid rent via a sale of the contents.

When the bank announced it was auctioning ‘La Collection Chlomovitch, Provenance Ambroise Vollard’, quick as a flash, 15 parties stepped forward to claim the art and the sale was cancelled.

Thérèse Bonney’s Vollard at 28, rue Martignac (ca. 1932), with an inscription to dealer Etienne Bignou reading "To someone who loves paintings so much."
A sobering 29 years of legal wrangling later, the works are finally to be offered at auction by the Vollard heirs, making their long-anticipated appearance on the market.

The highlight of the sale is a 1905 Derain painted at Collioure, in the south of France which is expected to sell for up to £14 million. Its vibrant colouration heralded a new string for modernism’s bow as he and fellow artists Vlaminck and Matissse became known as Les Fauves, or ‘Wild Beasts’.

There are also works by Cézanne and Degas, Renoir, Mary Cassatt, Picasso and Chagall. Some are inked with fond messages and dedications in scrawling, century-old signatures.

In 1937, when Vollard was busy curating his memories for an autobiography, he chanced upon a subscription slip for an edition of the pastoral romance Daphnis et Chloé, for which he had commissioned Bonnard to provide a series of illustrations.

In reflective mood, he inscribed it thus: ‘When I had the good fortune to find such a talented illustrator as Bonnard.’ and sent it to his former protégé.

Three days after he died in a fateful car crash, Bonnard, stricken with grief added: ‘When I had the good fortune to find such a patron as Vollard.’

Sources: Art NetThe Telegraph

‘Manet Paints Monet’

In the summer of 1874, Claude Monet was living in Argenteuil, a suburb on the Seine some seven miles north of Paris, and Édouard Manet was spending time at his family’s property in nearby Gennevilliers, just across the river.

  Édouard Manet: Olympia, 1863
Monet had first crossed Manet’s path at the Salon of 1865, where confusion resulted owing to the regulation of hanging works alphabetically by artists’ names. There Manet showed his highly controversial nude Olympia.

  Claude Monet: A Seascape, Shipping by Moonlight, 1864
At the Salon, Monet’s two large seascapes had been placed near the older artist’s work, and the Monets were much admired. Infuriated at being congratulated for Monet’s seascapes, Manet apparently exclaimed, “Who is this rascal who pastiches my painting so basely?”

Metropolitan Museum of Art Édouard Manet: Woman with a Parrot, 1866
Monet, for his part, was dismissive of Manet’s Woman with a Parrot—Zola considered it the best of his recent paintings—writing to Frédéric Bazille in June 1867 that “La Femme rose is bad, his earlier work is better than what he is doing at the moment.”

  Édouard Manet: Argenteuil, 1874
Yet there can be no doubt of Manet’s artistic and affective complicity with Monet at Argenteuil in the summer of 1874. Dazzling and virtuosic, Manet’s painting Argenteuil is louche and playful at the same time, with its lusty canotier balancing his companion’s parasol over their adjacent laps, her millinery confection, as T.J. Clark has written, a “wild twist of tulle, piped onto the oval like cream on a cake.” Routinely identified as the “drill sergeant” of the Impressionists—despite his refusal to participate in any of their exhibitions—it is clear that Manet now intended to come out (as it were) and show solidarity with the fledgling avant-garde, including such painters as Monet and Renoir.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Édouard Manet: Boating, 1874
The second Argenteuil boating picture, also likely completed in the summer of 1874 but held back until the Salon of 1879, suggests something of a withdrawal from Monet’s shimmering chromatic language.

  Édouard Manet: The Grand Canal of Venice, 1875
Paradoxically, Manet’s most fully realized Impressionist landscapes—done far from Argenteuil and Monet—are the two dazzling views of Venice’s Grand Canal, painted in Tissot’s company in the autumn of 1875

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, bequest of Joan Whitney Payson Édouard Manet: The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil, 1874
On July 23, Manet had been invited to paint en plein air in the garden of Monet’s rented villa on the rue Pierre Guienne (a house that Manet had found for him three years earlier). In a vibrating, high-keyed canvas, Manet portrayed Camille Monet and their seven-year-old son Jean seated on the lawn, with Monet in his painter’s smock tending to the flowers behind them. As Sauerländer observes in one of his most endearing insights, a cock, hen, and chick line up in the left foreground, affectionately paraphrasing the family as in an animal fable.

Read more at The New York Review of Books

The First Family of Art Forgery

Berlin Art Forging Brothers 07
Evgeni Posin and Michail Posin in their Posin Art Salon, surrounded by paintings they and their third brother, Semyon, painted.
(Vocativ/Joel Stonington)
In 2001, Belgian police called curators at one of London’s top museums and told them that two J.M.W. Turner paintings valued at $35 million had been recovered in a sting operation. Lost since 1994, the Tate Gallery scrambled to get a professional down to Antwerp to see them.

Sitting at home in Berlin a few days later, Evgeni Posin was reading an article in the newspaper about two men arrested for trying to pass off the Turners as original. He knew immediately the paintings were fakes. How? Because he and his two brothers had painted them.
The Manning brothers play quarterback. The Jonas brothers do boy-band music. And the Posin brothers make art fakes. For decades, Evgeni, 66, Michail, 65, and Semyon, 69, have painted near-perfect copies of the world’s masterworks, with all three of the brothers typically painting different sections of each canvas.

But unlike most forgers, they’re not trying to dupe the art world. Their buyers know exactly what they’re getting for the thousands of euros they shell out for a Posin painting. Many of the customers are collectors, often millionaires, who own an original but want to keep it hidden away. One fan, Gerold Schellstaeder, has bought more than a 100 of the Posins’ paintings—he has even set up a museum for their work in northern Germany. The brothers even have a Hollywood following: Four of their most recent Gustav Klimt copies turned up in Wes Anderson’s latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

All three brothers live in the Neukölln neighborhood of Berlin, where each has his own apartment and studio, along with an old storefront converted into what is called the Posin Art Salon, crammed to the brim with fabulous fakes. Walk in and you’ll see the Mona Lisa on an easel and a Van Gogh lying sideways on the floor.

Christoph Stoelzl, a German art critic, told Deutsche Welle that works painted by the brothers could easily pass as originals. But the brothers aren’t interested in the intricacies of a true forgery and leave plenty of clues for the expert.

“You can see it immediately,” says Evgeni. “All you need to do is look on the back.”

Other clues are in the makeup of the painting. Copies, for example, have to be painted on a slightly different sized canvas than the original to be legal, and the brothers use some newer materials, like paints and canvas. The clues aren’t so much on purpose as much as just obvious to someone looking for a forgery.

The brothers are obsessed with detail. For them, copying the great masters is akin to the best method acting. They didn’t cut their ears off while painting a copy of Van Gogh, but they did read diaries, study the time period and try to put themselves in his head. If an original painting took two hours to paint, then they take two hours. And if it took three months to make the masterpiece, then they paint for three months, too. Their attention to detail has led to some lucrative offers. Evgeni says that though they were once offered $9.6 million to forge a Picasso, but turned it down.

“We will not put our heads on the guillotine,” he says, “because people get caught eventually.” Asked if some of their customers pass off the works as originals, Evgeni says he doesn’t know—and doesn’t want to know. “If you sell a knife you don’t know if someone will kill with it.”
The brothers grew up in Russia and studied at the Leningrad Arts Academy, where the curriculum was all about copying the great masters. As they started in their early careers, authorities wanted them to make Communist-style paintings.

“We didn’t do what we were supposed to do at the time in Russia,” Evgeni says. He left first, traveled around Europe and ended up in Berlin. His brothers soon followed, and they have been here since. The three have an unusual relationship and with the larger paintings: They all paint together, adding parts at will.

The art of reproducing masters, and even adding a bit sometimes, gets overlooked in the rush to find new forms of self-expression. And though much of the art world frowns on copying, art critic Blake Gopnik pointed out in a New York Times article entitled “In Praise of Art Forgeries” that “if a fake is good enough to fool experts, then it’s good enough to give the rest of us pleasure, even insight.”

The brothers also create their own original works—one massive painting by Evgeni even earned the brothers an audience with the pope back in 2004—but much of their focus remains on the classics, in part because copies can be made of only paintings that are more than 70 years old. (Copyright law expires after 70 years, so copying older stuff is legal but newer stuff would require owning rights to the piece to do a reproduction.)

Then there are some paintings that the brothers say they won’t ever sell. Why? “It’s just intuition,” says Evgeni. “There are paintings we want to have and we want to keep.”

Additional reporting and translating by Svetlana Stepanova.
Reposted from Vocativ

Rare Film of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1915

You may never look at a painting by Pierre-August Renoir in quite the same way again after seeing this three-minute film. It didn’t show in his artwork, but Renoir suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis during the last three decades of his life. He worked in constant pain, right up until the day he died.

In this rare footage from 1915 we see the 74-year-old master seated at his easel, applying paint to a canvas while his youngest son Claude, 14, stands by to arrange the palette and place the brush in his father’s permanently clenched hand. By the time the film was made Renoir could no longer walk, even with crutches. He depended on others to move him around in a wheelchair. His assistants would scroll large canvases across a custom-made easel, so that the seated painter could reach different areas with his limited arm movements. But there were times when the pain was so bad he was essentially paralyzed. In the book Renoir, My Father, the painter’s famous filmmaker son Jean describes the shock his father’s wasted figure and gnarled hands gave to people who knew him only from his beautiful art:

"His hands were terribly deformed. His rheumatism had made the joints stiff and caused the thumbs to turn inward towards the palms, and his fingers to bend towards the wrists. Visitors who were unprepared for this could not take their eyes off his deformity. Though they did not dare to mention it, their reaction would be expressed by some such phrase as “It isn’t possible! With hands like that, how can he paint those pictures? There’s some mystery somewhere.”

The film of Renoir was made by 30-year-old Sacha Guitry, who appears midway through the film sitting down and talking with the artist. Guitry was the son of the famous actor and theatre director Lucien Guitry, and would go on to even greater fame than his father as an actor, filmmaker and playwright. When a group of German intellectuals issued a manifesto after the outbreak of World War I bragging about the superiority of German culture, Guitry was infuriated. As an act of patriotism he decided to make a film of France’s great men and women of the arts. It would be released as Ceux de Chez Nous, or “Those of Our Land.” Guitry and Renoir were already friends, so when the young man embarked on his project he traveled to Renoir’s home at Cagnes-sur-Mer, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. The date was shortly after June 15, 1915, when Renoir’s wife Aline died. In Sacha Guitry: The Last Boulevardier, writer James Harding describes the scene:

The choice of time was unfortunate. That very day Renoir’s wife was to be buried. Sacha went to the old man who sat huddled arthritically in his wheel chair and murmured: ‘It must be terribly painful, Monsieur Renoir, and you have my deepest sympathy.’ ‘Painful?’ he replied, shifting his racked limbs, ‘you bet my foot is painful!’ They pushed him in his chair up to a canvas, and, while Sacha leaned watching over his shoulder, Renoir jabbed at the picture with brushes attached to hands which had captured so much beauty but which now were shriveled like birds’ claws. The flattering reminder that he was being filmed for posterity had no effect on the man who, on being awarded the cravat of a Commandeur of the Légion d’Honneur, had said: ‘How can you expect me to wear a cravat when I never wear a collar?’

Renoir died four years after the film was made, on December 3, 1919. He lived long enough to see some of his paintings installed in the Louvre. When a young Henri Matisse asked the suffering old man why he kept painting, Renoir is said to have replied, “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”

Source Open Culture