Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde

Exhibition dates: September 14, 2006 – January 7, 2007
Exhibition location: The Tisch Galleries, second floor
Press preview: Tuesday, September 12, 10 a.m. – noon


The first comprehensive exhibition devoted to Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) – the pioneer dealer, patron, and publisher who played a key role in promoting and shaping the careers of many of the leading artists during the late 19th and early 20th centuries – will open at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 14. One hundred paintings as well as dozens of ceramics, sculpture, prints, and livres d'artistes commissioned and published by Vollard, from his appearance on the Paris art scene in the mid-1890s to his death in 1939, will comprise the exhibition Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde, which will feature works by Bonnard, Cézanne, Degas, Derain, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Maillol, Matisse, Picasso, Redon, Renoir, Rouault, Rousseau, Vlaminck, Vuillard, and others. Highlights will include six paintings from Vollard's landmark 1895 Cézanne exhibition; a never-before-reassembled triptych from his 1896-97 Van Gogh retrospective; the masterpiece Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? from his 1898 Gauguin exhibition; paintings from Picasso's first French exhibition (1901) and Matisse's first solo exhibition (1904); and three pictures from Derain's London series, painted in 1906-1907 at Vollard's suggestion. Also on view will be numerous portraits of Vollard by leading artists, among them Cézanne, Bonnard, Renoir, and Picasso.

"Vollard's genius lay in his ability to identify undiscovered talent," commented Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "That Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and many others are household names today is in large part due to Vollard's early promotion of their work. It is remarkable that there has never before been a substantial exhibition devoted to the extraordinary scope of Vollard's activities. This international presentation, which premieres at the Metropolitan, is the result of an impressive, sustained effort on the part of a team of curators at the Metropolitan as well as in Chicago, London, and Paris."

The exhibition is made possible by The Florence Gould Foundation.

Education programs are made possible by
The Georges Lurcy Charitable and Educational Trust.

The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
The Art Institute of Chicago, the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, and the
Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris.

It is supported by an indemnity from the
Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Ambroise Vollard was a legend in his own lifetime. He arrived in Paris from the remote Ile-de-la-Réunion in 1887 and made his reputation at the age of 29 with a Cézanne retrospective that was possibly the most important exhibition of that decade. Cézanne's work was virtually unknown in Paris at the time, and Vollard took a significant financial risk in showcasing the 150 paintings that he displayed. The effort was rewarded, however, when Vollard sold many of the works from the show and Cézanne's place in the pantheon of modern art was established. Soon he became the leading contemporary art dealer of his generation and a major player in the history of modern art. Vollard was the principal dealer of Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and a number of Fauve artists, and he lent early support to the Nabis, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. He had a unique – some thought eccentric – approach to selling art, frequently dozing in his gallery, making a point of not showing his clients what they asked to see, and concealing most of his paintings behind a divider at the back of his shop.

Cézanne to Picasso will feature individual rooms dedicated to Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. Included will be six of the paintings that Vollard displayed in his groundbreaking Cézanne exhibition of November 1895. In 1898 the dealer hosted a small exhibition of Gauguin's Tahitian-period paintings – the centerpiece of that show, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) will be a highlight of the New York and Chicago venues of Cézanne to Picasso. Another will be three Van Gogh paintings that Vollard seems to have presented as a triptych in his 1896-97 Van Gogh exhibition: Banks of the Seine with Pont de Clichy in the Spring (Dallas Museum of Art), Fishing in Spring, The Pont de Clichy (Asnières) (Art Institute of Chicago), and Woman in a Garden (private collection). The three paintings date to 1887, share almost identical dimensions, and feature painted red borders. Vollard recalled that, early on, "even the boldest were unable to stomach [Van Gogh's] paintings."

Other rooms of Cézanne to Picasso will highlight the work of groups of artists, such as the Nabis and Fauves. Beginning in the mid-1890s, Vollard championed the artists known collectively as the Nabis – he purchased their pictures, commissioned their prints, and held two major group exhibitions of their work at his rue Laffitte gallery in 1897 and 1898. Cézanne to Picasso will feature paintings by Bonnard, Denis, Roussel, and Vuillard, as well as their lithograph albums, livres d'artiste, and Bonnard's bronze table sculpture, Spring Frolic (The Terrasse Children) (Art Institute of Chicago), which was the subject of an exhibition at Vollard's gallery in 1902.

The Fauve room will display works made by some of the artists who exhibited together in the famous 1905 Salon d'automne. Included will be paintings from Matisse's first solo exhibition held at Vollard's in June 1904 and three of Derain's paintings of the Thames River, which Vollard commissioned ca. 1906 after seeing Monet's paintings of the same subject. Also featured in this gallery will be colorful plates and vases that the Fauves produced in conjunction with the master ceramicist André Metthey at Vollard's request.

Vollard's interest in publishing spanned his career and he played a vital role in the original printmaking revolution at the end of the 19th century. He was responsible for a number of celebrated albums of original lithographs – by such artists as Bonnard, Denis, Roussel, and Vuillard – and his enthusiasm for publishing extended to the production of luxury livres d'artiste as well as monographs on Cézanne, Degas, and Renoir and his own autobiography in 1936. One room of the exhibition will be devoted exclusively to these books and prints, including four Nabi albums of color lithographs. Vollard's personal copy of Oeuvres de François Villon, heightened in gouache by Emile Bernard, will also be on view, as well as a group of never before exhibited copper plates and proofs for Cirque de l'étoile filante, annotated with color notes by Georges Rouault (Fondation Georges Rouault, Paris).

Picasso once remarked that Vollard's likeness was painted more often than the world's most beautiful woman, and another highlight of Cézanne to Picasso is a room of portraits of Vollard by leading artists, among them Cézanne's early vision of him holding a book (Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris), Renoir's interpretation of him as a toreador (Nippon Television Network Corporation, Tokyo), and Bonnard's views of him with his beloved cat (Petit Palais and Kunsthaus Zürich). Also in the exhibition will be Bonnard's painting of Vollard and his guests dining in the dealer's famous "cave," the humid cellar beneath his gallery, where "tout Paris" mingled. The painting (private collection) has rarely been seen.

The exhibition will conclude with a gallery devoted to the work of Pablo Picasso, who had his first Parisian exhibition in 1901 at Vollard's gallery. Eight paintings from that exhibition will be on display, including a portrait of the author of the catalogue preface, Gustave Coquiot (Centre Pompidou, Paris). Vollard bought Picasso's Blue Period and Rose Period paintings, and new research has shown that he purchased Cubist paintings as well, among them Picasso's memorable portrait of the narcoleptic dealer, painted in a Cubist style (Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow). The one hundred etchings that compose Picasso's Suite Vollard will end the exhibition.

Every work chosen for Cézanne to Picasso passed through Vollard's hands, whether it was commissioned, exhibited, or owned by him. Many of the loans have additional significance. For example, some of the paintings on display were sold by Vollard to other artists, such as the Cézannes acquired by Matisse (Three Bathers, Petit Palais), Monet (Bathers, Saint Louis Art Museum, and Negro Scipion, Museu de Arte de São Paulo), and Renoir (The Battle of Love, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) and the Rousseau purchased by Picasso (The Representatives of Foreign Powers Coming to Greet the Republic as a Sign of Peace, Musée Picasso, Paris). A secondary theme of the exhibition is Vollard's influence in developing collections of modern art, and consequently the curators have included paintings that Vollard sold to Louisine and H. O. Havemeyer, Cornelis Hoogendijk, Vincenc Kramár, Ivan Morozov, Karl Ernst Osthaus, Auguste Pellerin, Sergei Shchukin, and John Quinn, among others.

The exhibition has been organized by Gary Tinterow, Engelhard Curator in Charge, and Rebecca Rabinow, Associate Curator, both of the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Douglas Druick and Gloria Groom at the Art Institute of Chicago; Ann Dumas, a London-based art historian; and Anne Roquebert at the Musée d'Orsay.

A 460-page, fully illustrated scholarly catalogue will accompany the exhibition. Twenty-two essays will examine Vollard's career and expertise in the art market, his relationships with individual artists and collectors, and the wealth of previously unpublished material from the newly available archive of Vollard's documents and from archives of the artists he represented. The catalogue will be available in the Metropolitan Museum's bookshops.

A variety of educational programs will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition, which will also be featured on the Museum's website at www.metmuseum.org.

After its showing at the Metropolitan, the exhibition will travel to the Art Institute of Chicago (February 17 - May 13, 2007) and the Musée d'Orsay, Paris (June 11 - September 16, 2007).

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