Twenty-one Year’s Diary of an Art Dealer

The current exhibition at the Jewish Museum of  the paintings  which once belonged to the art dealer Jacques Goudstikker remind me another art dealer René Gimpel, who has a more profound impact on the American public and private art collection. What in common between the two is that both died of World War II.

Like Jacques Goudstikker, René Gimpel was born in an art dealer family. He was forced to step into his family business at the age of 26 when his father died of diphtheria in New York in 1907.* Mr. Gimpel could have avoided the tragedy by living comfortably in New York when Paris was taken in 1940. At that time the second Gimpel & Wildenstein Gallery has opened more than 30 years The enormous wealth accumulated in the Gilded Age made the cross-Atlantic adventure a rewarding and a long-lasting one. But René chose to join a resistance group in unoccupied France and was arrested (first in 1942 and released but later again in 1944) and sent to Neuengamme concentration camp. He died one year after.

From 1918, the end of the First World War, until 1939, the beginning of the Second World War, Mr. Gimpel kept a diary which, unlike Goudstikker’s inventory details, reflected a personal taste which very much influenced a generation of collectors. The book based on the diary was published in 1966, which from my partial reading was both informative and entertaining. As  one of the most important dealers who resided in the capitol of the art world, René recorded vividly his personal encounterance with eminent painters of his times such as Monet, Renoir and Mary Cassette. On his account, Monet commented Corot didn’t put enough paint on his canvases and didn’t know what would become for them with time, varnish and cleaning. (Apparently Monet underestimated the advancement of modern art conservation.)

The keen eyes, trained from observing paintings over years, gave René marvelous insights into describing both the countenance and personality of people in his business life. In Feb 27 1919 entry, he describe d Eastman was a small man with a severe, remote face, chilly and choleric. The inventor of Kodak told him, “No one can judge the beauty of a picture as well as I; I’ve a method of my own, and neither you nor anyone else can equal me because no one has as much knowledge of photography. When I look at a picture, I ask myself: ‘If this view, scene or portrait had been a photograph from real life, would it appear as it does here?’ If the answer is negative, it means the painting is not right. Now then, after I bought that Turner, I saw that certain waves of the sea could not have appeared in a photographic print as he had painted them!” Eastman’s other comment proved his entrepreneurship far greater than his connoisseurship. “Machines are to help man get through his work quickly, so that he may have more time for his pleasure.” Mr. Gimpel seemed to have a better impression of Henry Frick who was described as having a pair of cold eyes, grasping and hard under their genial look, but remain a clear, beautiful blue. Among the collection of Frick by the year of 1919, he was most impressed by Rembrandt’s self portrait, “whose eyes fix on the behold and overwhelm him.” (I always feel being examined by these penetrating eyes at Frick.)

Diary of an Art Dealer (Book Cover)
Diary of an Art Dealer (Book Cover)

The Wildenstein gallery is now at 19 East 64th St. between 5th Ave and Madison Ave. But the gallery history on its website doesn’t mention Gimpel family at all. (The Gimpel and Wildenstein families in Alsace have a history of intermarriage back in the 19th century.)

If the first half were filled with sorrows of the demise of impressionists, in the later part of the diary, Mr. Gimpel discussed more about the rising Modern art such as that of Picasso or Martisse. But his attitude was not always clear as he commented “these days it isn’t always the artists who push themselves; they are thrust forward by an intangible, intellectual group.” His two sons Charles and Peter, founded Gimpel Fils in London in 1946 and has been committed to British contemporary art ever since.

You can find the book from Amazon.

*Reference

The art of the deal by Dr Diana Kostyrko

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 - 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that "his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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