Edith Halpert reading at the home of Charles Sheeler, between 1933 and 1942
|Born||Edith Gregoryevna Fivoosiovitch
New York, NY
Edith Halpert or Edith Gregor Halpert (née Edith Gregoryevna Fivoosiovitch (Fein)) (1900–1970) was a pioneering New York City dealer of Modern art. She brought recognition and market success to many avant-garde American artists over her forty-year career from 1926 through the 1960s. Her establishment, The Downtown Gallery, one of the first in Greenwich Village, introduced or showcased such modern art luminaries as Stuart Davis, Georgia O'Keeffe, Arthur Dove, Jacob Lawrence, Charles Sheeler, David Fredenthal, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Ben Shahn, Jack Levine, Marguerite and William Zorach, and many others.
Halpert arrived in the U.S. as a penniless Russian Jewish immigrant, transformed the landscape of Modern art, and died a multimillionaire at the age of 70. Sotheby's credited her with having put modernist painting auctions on the map with the posthumous sale of her collection for $3.6 million in 1973.
Halpert was born Edith Gregoryevna Fivoosiovitch to Gregor and Frances Lucom Fivoosiovitch, Odessa, Ukraine, April 25, 1900. She had a sister, Sonia, ten years older. She emigrated in 1906 with her mother and sister, but without her father as he had died around her fourth birthday of tuberculosis. At this time the family name changed to Fivisovitch. They initially settled on the west side of Harlem. At 16, Halpert worked at Bloomingdale's department store as a comptometer operator. She also studied drawing under Leon Kroll and Ivan Olinsky at the National Academy of Design and life drawing with George Bridgeman at the Art Students' League.
In 1917, she met Samuel Halpert at John Weichsel's People's Art Guild and the couple married the following year. Her experience in business continued with employment as an advertising manager at Stern Brothers department store and an efficiency expert at investment firms Cohen, Goldman and Fishman & Co. Between 1921 and 1925, Halpert served in a number of capacities with the bank investment firm S. W. Strauss & Co.; eventually appointed to the board of directors. An acquaintance with sculptor Elie Nadelman provided her first exposure to folk art. Her interest was further expanded by spending time in 1926, with Samuel, in Ogunquit, Maine, and artists Stefan Hirsch, Bernard Karfiol, Walt Kuhn, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Robert Laurent, Katherine Schmidt, Niles Spencer, and Marguerite and William Zorach. That same year, Halpert opened her own gallery.
Opening The Downtown Gallery
After a successful rise in the business world, Halpert used money from bonuses to open Our Gallery at 113 West 13th Street with her friend Berthe Kroll Goldsmith in November 1926. The gallery featured contemporary American art, often by friends of Halpert and her husband, artist Samuel Halpert. The following year, the name of the gallery changed to the Downtown Gallery (a suggestion of William Zorach) In early brochures, Halpert and Goldsmith described their mission thus: "The Downtown Gallery has no prejudice for any one school. Its selection is driven by quality--by what is enduring--not by what is in vogue."
The Downtown Gallery, American Folk Art Gallery, and The Daylight Gallery
The American Folk Art Gallery, founded by Holger Cahill in partnership with Halpert and Goldsmith, opened in 1929 as the first folk art gallery, moving in upstairs from the Downtown Gallery. The affinity between Halpert's artists and folk art was strong and sales of folk art sustained the Downtown Gallery through the Depression. (Abby Aldrich Rockefeller was a consistent buyer.) A third space opened in 1930, the Daylight Gallery, was run behind the main gallery and emphasized art and sculpture displayed in diffuse natural light.
Fortifying The Downtown Gallery
Halpert's business skills helped her manage prices to encourage buying by collectors of modest means. She also used marketing and advertising and worked to get her artists included in museums and public collections to increase their exposure. In an attempt to fortify the gallery, after buying out Goldsmith in 1935, Halpert winnowed her artist roster down to twelve and focused her efforts on profitability. In 1940, the gallery relocated to 43 East 51st Street and again to 32 East 51st Street in 1945.
As an advisor for the WPA Federal Art Project, Halpert had access to many non-New York based artists, who she brought to her gallery. She also worked to attract artists formerly represented by Alfred Stieglitz who died in 1946. Additionally, she took on artist estates such as Arthur Dove (a former Stieglitz artist). All of these artists added after 1936 were eventually transferred, without the artists' consent, to the Alan Gallery, led by Halpert's assistant director Charles Alan. The Downtown Gallery relocated one last time to the Ritz Tower Concourse at 465 Park Avenue in 1965.
Contributions to the art world
Halpert served as organizer and director of the First Municipal Exhibition of American Art, Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1929. Her work with the WPA Federal Art Project took her to Washington D.C. in the summer of 1936 to develop the Exhibition and Allocation Program, which facilitated nationwide circulation for works from regional art centers. In 1937, she formed the Bureau for Architectural Sculpture and Murals, a central clearing-house from which architects could review and select work by artists and sculptors experienced in working in architectural settings (similar in mission to her Daylight Gallery). Halpert served as curator of the art section of the American National Exhibition, sponsored by the United States Information Agency and the U.S. Department of Commerce; she traveled to the Soviet Union with the exhibition, installed the show, and gave daily gallery talks in Russian.
In 1952, to promote art history, Halpert established the Edith Gregor Halpert Foundation. Its activities included assisting universities to fund scholarships for the study of contemporary American art and championing the rights of artists to control the sale and reproduction of their work. In recognition of her dedication to the arts, Halpert received the Art in America Award in 1959, a USIA Citation for Distinguished Service in 1960, and the First Annual International Silver Prize from the University of Connecticut for "distinguished contribution to the arts" in 1968.
Halpert was an avid collector. Exhibitions drawn from her collection include: American Modernism: The First Wave, Painting from 1903-1933, presented at Brandeis University Museum of Art, 1963; Six Decades of American Art, shown at Leicester Galleries, London, 1965; Image to Abstraction, held at Amon Carter Museum, 1967; and Edith Halpert and the Downtown Gallery, exhibited at the University of Connecticut, 1968. The Edith Gregor Halpert Collection was eventually sold at auction by Sotheby Parke-Bernet, 1973.
- Kelly, Andrew. Kentucky by Design: The Decorative Arts and American Culture. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2015. ISBN 978-0-8131-5567-8
- Tepfer, Diane, "Edith Gregor Halpert and the Downtown Gallery Downtown (1926-1940); a Study in American Art Patronage", Ph.D. Dissertation, History of Art, University of Michigan, 1989.
- Sadik, Marvis, Edith Halpert & The Downtown Gallery, Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, Storrs, 1968.
- Halpert, Edith Gregor and The Poses Institute of Fine Arts, American Modernism: The First Wave - Painting from 1903 to 1933 / October 4 through November 10, 1963, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis Univ.
- Sotheby Parke Bernet, The Edith G. Halpert Collection of American Paintings, 1973.
- Sotheby Parke Bernet, Highly Important 19th and 20th Century American Paintings, ... from the Estate of the late Edith Gregor Halpert...Sale #3484, 1973.
- Halpert, Edith Gregor, The Downtown Gallery: American Art, 1936.
- Halpert, Edith Gregor, A Catalogue of the American Folk Art Collection of Colonial Williamsburg Collected and Presented by Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Colonial Williamsburg, 1947.
- Pollack, Lindsay, The Girl With the Gallery: Edith Gregor Halpert And the Making of the Modern Art Market, PublicAffairs, 2006. ISBN 978-1-58648-302-9
- Pollack, p. 383, 384.
- Goldstein, Malcolm, Landscape with Figures: A History of Art Dealing in the United States, Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513673-9.
- "Downtown Gallery records, 1824-1974, bulk 1926-1969". Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.