Sunday, March 1, 2020

"Recollections of a Picture Dealer", by Ambroise Vollard

I don't remember exactly where I read a review of this book, a memoir of the well-known Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939). But I hesitate to recommend it to anyone but the most avid fan of art history. Perhaps a good biography of Vollard is yet to be written.

Vollard's collection of anecdotes is populated with the colourful characters of the Parisian art scene, including Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Degas. Also included in his tales are well-known art collectors, like Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo Stein, Henry Osborne Havemeyer and Albert C. Barnes.

A caution: Vollard was very much a man of his time, and his stories are told through the lens of racist and misogynist views. No doubt a shrewd dealer, who generously supported struggling artists, he was not a particularly skilled writer. Nor is the translation especially accomplished. Vollard provides a glimpse into an intriguing world of salons and cafés, of dalliances and betrayals, slights and schemes, but stops short of sharing more thoughtful reflections.

Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, Paul Cezanne, 1899

I think the nature of Vollard's personality was that he was a true collector, not only of art but of people. He was also a "connector", bringing together disparate people with common interests.

Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, Picasso, 1910

In short, Recollections of a Picture Dealer was a disappointment. For an intriguing summary of Vollard's fascinating life and remarkable legacy, have a look at his Wikipedia profile.

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