Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Forgotten Female Art Dealer Who Championed Picasso and Modigliani

An article on Artsy, written by Karen Chernick, has introduced me to an intriguing personality. Her name was Berthe Weill, and I had never heard of her.

In 1901, at the age of 36, the Parisienne Berthe Weill opened an art gallery where she sold the work of emerging artists at modest prices. Writes Chernick,
"Weill bought, exhibited and sold Pablo Picasso's work before he ever moved to Paris or painted any of the works for which he's now considered a modernist legend.... She sold his Moulin de la Galette (c. 1900) for 250 francs to collector and newspaper publisher Arthur Huc.
"Huc made another purchase from Weill that year, a still life by Henri Matisse, for the bargain rate of 130 francs, the first ever sale by a dealer for the young Fauve artist."

Moulin de la Galette, Pablo Picasso, now in the Guggenheim Museum

Among the artists she championed during her 40-year career were André Derain, Georges Braque, Aristide Maillol, Kees van Dongen, Maurice de Vlaminck, Suzanne Valadon, Maurice Utrilllo, Georges Roualt, Raoul Dufy, Robert Delauney and Amadeo Modigliani. Midway through her career she began to dedicate half of her exhibitions to women artists. As the artists became more recognized, they moved on to better-known galleries, and Weill never achieved much financial success.

Portrait de Berthe Weill, Georges Kars, 1933

Sadly, Weill had to close her gallery in 1941. As tough as she was, life had become too difficult for a Jewish businesswoman in German-occupied France. Ten years later, she died in poverty.

There is a local connection to this story: in 2022, the Montreal Museum of Fine Art will stage a show of some 80 paintings that passed through her gallery.

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