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July 3, 1866|
Saint-Denis, La Réunion
|Died||July 21, 1939
|Cause of death||car accident|
Ambroise Vollard (3 July 1866 – 21 July 1939) is regarded as one of the most important dealers in French contemporary art at the beginning of the twentieth century. He is credited with providing exposure and emotional support to numerous notable and unknown artists, including Paul Cézanne, Aristide Maillol, Renoir, Louis Valtat, Pablo Picasso, André Derain, Georges Rouault, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh. He is also well known as an avid art collector and publisher.
Born in Saint-Denis, Réunion, he was raised in the French Indian Ocean colony. After his matura (final exams) in La Réunion, he went to study jurisprudence in France from 1895, for a while in Montpellier, then at the École de droit in Paris, where he received his degree in 1888.
During his studies, Vollard converted himself into an "amateur-merchant" by becoming a clerk for an art dealer, and in 1893 established his own art gallery, at Rue Laffitte, then the center of the Parisian market for contemporary art. There Vollard mounted his first major exhibitions, buying almost the entire output of Cézanne, some 150 canvases to create his first exhibition in 1896. This was followed by exhibitions of Manet, Gauguin and Van Gogh (4 – 30 June 1895); for Gabriel Mourey, French correspondent of The Studio in Paris, this was simply a matter of "Scylla and Charybdis". These were then was followed by a second Cézanne exhibition (1898), the first Picasso exhibition (1901) and Matisse (1904).
Much has been made of his physical appearance and countenance (grimly described as a "large, gruff, boorish fellow" with "downcast eyes..."); however, he was also a very shrewd businessman who made a fortune with the "buy low, sell high" mantra. His clients included Albert C. Barnes, Henry Osborne Havemeyer, Gertrude Stein and her brother, Leo Stein.
Having put on the first Picasso exhibition, in 1930 Vollard commissioned Picasso to produce a suite of 100 etchings which became known as the Vollard Suite. Vollard would later write biographies of Cézanne (1914), Degas, and Renoir.
With the dark tones of war rising, Vollard returned from his cottage in Tremblay-en-France to his mansion on the Rue Martignac in July 1939, where he had stored 10,000 pieces of art work. Before the junction to Pontchartrain on a very wet road, his chauffer-driven Talbot skidded and then somersaulted twice. Having fractured his cervical vertebrae, there he lay with his chauffer until found dead, aged 73, the following morning.
After his death, Vollard's executor was fellow dealer Martin Fabiani, who was instructed to divide his collection between his heirs: Madelaine de Galea, an alleged mistress; and his brother Lucien. Fabiani was later to be shown a primary collaborator with the occupational Nazi forces, and faced a hefty fine post-WW2.
Due to the Nazi invasion of France which started on 10 May 1940, Fabiani hurridly shipped 560 paintings to the United States. Leaving on the SS Excalibur from Lisbon, Portugal, the ship was intercepted by Royal Navy in Bermuda on 25 September 1940. Designated "enemy property", they were stored at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa during World War II. Post-war, on 19 April 1949 the London prize court agreed release of the pieces to Fabiani, who returned the works to Vollard's sisters. In gratitude, the sisters donated all of the lithographs by Rouault and Chagall, and a single painting by Gauguin to National Gallery of Canada. The remaining works soon started appearing on the New York commercial art gallery market, where they were quickly sold.
Vollard's part-time protege Erich Šlomović successfully appealled to Fabiani, that Vollard had agreed to donate a number of pieces to create a museum of his works in Yugoslavia. Fabiani agreed release of 180 paintings and prints, that Šlomović put in storage pre-shipment in a Societe Generale bank branch vault in Paris. Returning home with about 40 of these works, he placed them behind the wall of a farmhouse due to advancing Nazi regiments; these were post-war appropriated by the Yugoslav authorities. Šlomović himself was soon arrest, and killed by being gassed in the back of an adapted truck by the Nazi Germans in 1942. The residual works were discovered in 1979 when the bank was allowed to open its vault to recover unpaid storage fees. An 11 year legal dispute ensued by the heirs of both Vollard and Šlomović, which delayed their resale. It was eventually found that most of these pieces were sold to Šlomović by Lucien Vollard, who had regular needs for injections of cash to his expensive lifestyle.
After the pieces were divided, a number were donated to the National Museum, Belgrade, whilst the rest were sold off by Sotheby’s in Paris in June 2010. These included a 1905 Derain painted at Collioure, as well as works by Mary Cassatt, Cézanne, Chagall, Degas, Picasso and Renoir.
- Cooper, Philip. Cubism. London: Phaidon, 1995, p. 48. ISBN 0714832502
- Davies, Lucy (14 Jun 2010). "Ambroise Vollard: the original Charles Saatchi". The Telegraph. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- Ambroise Vollard (28 March 2003). Recollections of a Picture Dealer. Dover Publications. ISBN 978-0486428529.
- Rebecca A. Rabinow, Douglas W. Druick, Maryline Assante di Panzillo. Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-garde.
- Adelson, Warren; Bertalan, Sarah; Mathews, Nancy Mowll; Pinsky, Susan; Rosen, Marc (2008). Mary Cassatt: Prints and Drawings from the Collection of Ambroise Vollard. New York: Adelson Galleries. ISBN 0-9815801-0-6.
- Rudolf Koella & Rudolf Velhagen (ed.): Renoir, Cézanne, Picasso und ihr Galerist Ambroise Vollard, Exh. Museum Langmatt, Baden (CH) & Musée Jenisch, Vevey (CH), 2006 ISBN 3-89904-203-4 (German version) / French version forthcoming; the essential contributions by Jonathan Pascoe Pratt, London
- Sales catalogue Trésors du Coffre Vollard (Treasures from the Vollard Safe) - Sotheby's, Paris 2010
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ambroise Vollard.|
- Guardian Unlimited: Portrait of the Week November 30, 2002 article
- Ambroise Vollard: Man for his Times! SohoArt mini-biography
- Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant Garde at www.artic.eduChicago Art Institute
- The Art World's Ultimate Wheeler-Dealer "CBS Sunday Morning"
- artnet "Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of The Avant-Garde"
- Miscellaneous papers regarding Ambroise Vollard, 1890-1939. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, California. Collection comprises original and photocopied letters and records related to the art dealer Ambroise Vollard and the artists he represented.
- Pierre Bonnard, the Graphic Art, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Vollard (see index)