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Ambroise Vollard, standing in front of Picasso's Evocación. El entierro de Casagemas
3 July 1866|
Saint-Denis, La Réunion
|Died||21 July 1939
Cause of death
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 1895. 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 war approaching, Vollard set out in July 1939 from his cottage in Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre to travel to his mansion on the Rue Martignac, where he had stored 10,000 artworks. Nearing the junction to Pontchartrain, on a very wet road, his chauffeur-driven Talbot skidded and then somersaulted twice. Having fractured his cervical vertebrae, there he lay with his chauffeur 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.
Due to the Nazi invasion of France, which started on 10 May 1940, Fabiani hurriedly shipped 560 paintings to the United States. Leaving on the SS Excalibur from Lisbon, Portugal, the ship was intercepted by the Royal Navy in Bermuda on 25 September 1940. Designated "enemy property", the paintings 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 the 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 former secretary and protegé, Erich Šlomović, a young Serb with Jewish origins (b. 1915), had connections with Vollard, Fabiani as well as Lucien Vollard since about 1938. He had often stated his wish to create a museum of French art collected by him in Yugoslavia. Šlomović had amassed a collection of about 600 works, most of them prints or drawings, with a few important oil paintings, by a combination of exchange, gift, purchase and donation. Vollard had put him in direct contact with the most prominent artists of the day and often asked him to act as agent for art selling or purchasing purposes. Beginning of 1940, Šlomović put about 200 works in storage in a Societe Generale bank branch vault in Paris. Returning home with about 450 of these works, he exhibited them in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1940. With the advance of German armies in Serbia, he went into hiding, along with his brother Egon, and his father and mother Roza. They placed the paintings in crates behind the wall of a farmhouse in the Southern Serbian village of Bacina. Šlomović, his brother and father were soon arrested, and, like many other Jews in occupied Serbia, killed by the Nazi Germans in 1942 in Belgrade. After the war these were appropriated by the Yugoslav authorities. They were shown officially only once in 1989 in Belgrade and Zagreb under the name "Slomovic Collection". A legal battle is currently (2014) underway to determine the ownership of the Belgrade collection, including the Šlomović heirs, the Vollard beneficiaries and the Serbian government.
The Paris 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. A court in Amiens, France, ruled in 1996, that the paintings stored in Paris were to be awarded to the Vollard estate. These were sold off by Sotheby’s in Paris and in London in June 2010, totaling 30 million euros in proceeds. 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 June 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.
- "Selected Dealer Archives & Locations (Getty Research Institute)". Getty.edu. Retrieved 2014-01-21.
- Rebecca A. Rabinow, Douglas W. Druick, Maryline Assante di Panzillo. Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-garde.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ambroise Vollard.|
- Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant Garde at www.artic.eduChicago Art Institute
- Miscellaneous papers regarding Ambroise Vollard, 1890-1939. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, California.
- 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)