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Knoedler dates its origin to 1846, when French dealers Goupil & Cie opened a branch in New York. Michel (later Michael) Knoedler (1823-1878), born in Kapf near Gaildorf in Baden Wuerttemberg, Germany, started to work for Goupil & Cie in Paris in 1844, and moved to New York in 1852 to take charge of the New York branch. He purchased the U.S. arm of the business in 1857, and was later joined by his sons Roland (1856-1932), Edmond and Charles, with Roland taking the lead.
With dealer Charles Carstairs, Knoedler opened branches in London and Paris, and developed a reputation as a leading dealer of Old Master paintings, with customers including collectors such as Collis P. Huntington, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Henry O. Havemeyer, William Rockefeller, John Jacob Astor, Andrew Mellon, J. P. Morgan, and Henry Clay Frick, and institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre, and the Tate Gallery. Knoedler developed a fruitful relationship with London gallery Colnaghi, with Colnaghi finding suitable paintings in Europe for Knoedler to sell to wealthy collectors in the US. Knoedler and Conlaghi were involved in the secret sales by the Soviet government of works from the Russian Imperial collection in the Hermitage in the 1920s and 1930s, along with Matthiesen in Berlin.
After Roland Knoedler retired in 1928, the management of the firm passed to his nephew Charles Henschel, with Carmen Mesmore, Charles Carstairs and his son Carroll Carstairs. Henschel died in 1956, and E. Coe Kerr and Roland Balay (Michael Knoedler's grandson) took over. The firm was sold to industrialist and collector Armand Hammer for $2.5 million in 1971. Five years later, the last member of the Knoedler family - Roland Balay - ceased his involvement in the management of the firm. It increasingly concentrated on contemporary art from the late 1970s. After Hammer's death in 1990, the Hammer foundation continued to hold a controlling interest in the gallery until it closed in 2011, when Michael Armand Hammer (Armand Hammer's grandson) was its chairman.
The art dealership has occupied eight different locations, starting on Broadway. By the 1890s, it operated from a row house at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. In 1911, it moved to a new building at 556 Fifth Avenue, designed by Carrère and Hastings, and then to another new building by Carrère and Hastings at 14 East 57th Street, near Madison Avenue, in 1925. The firm incurred significant costs in refurbishing new premises in an Italian Renaissance-style town house at 19 East 70th Street in 1970.
Knoedler held a 150-year retrospective in 1996, exhibiting works such as John Singleton Copley's Watson and the Shark, Thomas Eakins's Music, and Édouard Manet's The Plum, with loans from 15 institutions, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art, a coup for a commercial gallery.
The gallery's president resigned in October 2009, amid rumours of problems with fakes involving paintings supplied to the gallery by a Long Island art dealer. A statement issued on Wednesday 28 November 2009 stated that the gallery was closing. The gallery sold its premises at 19 East 70th Street for $31 million in February 2011. It still has a valuable library of letters, photographs, and other records, going back to 1863. Parts of its inventory will be sold at auction in November 2012.
The day before the gallery closed in November 2011, Belgian hedge-fund manager Pierre Lagrange sued the gallery in relation to an untitled work attributed to Jackson Pollock that he purchased for $17 million in 2007, on the understanding that it would be included in a supplement to the catalogue raisonné, but it was later claimed that no such supplement was planned; tests later showed that some of the paint used was not available until some years after Pollock's death. Other lawsuits followed: a South Carolina couple - Domenico De Sole, a former Gucci executive and chairman of Tom Ford International, and his wife, Eleanore - claimed that the gallery sold them a forged Mark Rothko, "Untitled 1956", for $8.3 million in 2004; and Wall Street executive John D. Howard claimed for a fake Willem de Kooning painting that he bought for $4 million in 2007.
In 2003, Goldman Sachs executive Jack Levy had bought an untitled Jackson Pollock painting for $2 million, but when the International Foundation for Art Research did not authenticate the work, Levy asked for and received his money back.
The Getty Research Institute acquired the Knoedler Gallery archive. With the exception of the reference library, which the Knoedler Gallery sold separately in January 2012 and which consists of titles already in the Getty Research Institute's library, this acquisition represents the complete archive of the gallery's operations from the 1850s to 1971, when it was acquired by Armand Hammer. The archival material includes business records; correspondence among clients, artists, and Knoedler staff; card files on clients and artworks; photographs; prints; rare books; sales catalogs dating to the 18th century; and gallery installation plans.
- "Knoedler Gallery archive". Getty Research Institute. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
- When Elegance Sold Art, The New York Times, 8 March 2012
- Knoedler, Michael, Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America, Frick Collection
- M. Knoedler & Co., Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America, Frick Collection
- Knoedler, Roland F., 1856-1932, Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America, Frick Collection
- Knoedler and Company Exhibition Catalogs, Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries
- The Knoedler Archive and Library, Museum Archivist, Volume 11, Number 2, 2006
- A Gallery That Helped Create the American Art World Closes Shop After 165 Years, The New York Times, 30 November 2011
- Artist’s Family Says Gallery Ignored Warning of Fakes, The New York Times, 6 May 2011
- Ruling on Artistic Authenticity: The Market vs. the Law, The New York Times, 5 August 2012
- Reading the tea leaves in the Knoedler Mess, artnet.com, 2 April 2012
- Second Suit Accuses Knoedler Gallery of Selling Fake Art, The New York Times, 28 March 2012
- Lawyers chase elusive figure in Knoedler lawsuit, artnet.com, 2012
- The Knoedler’s Meltdown: Inside the Forgery Scandal and Federal Investigations, Vanity Fair, 6 April 2012
- A Question of Provenance, Vanity Fair, May 2012
- The Knoedler-Rosales Case: A Dealer's Defense, artnet.com, 4 April 2012
- Knoedler Gallery to Auction Its Inventory, The New York Times, 6 September 2012