Roger Dutilleul was a French industrialist who became one of the top art collectors in France during the first half of the twentieth century. An attentive, elegant man, he was known for purchasing works of art directly from exhibitions—including the seminal 1908 show of Georges Braque’s work at Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s gallery—and he provided vital support for young artists whose work was still widely rejected by the public and the art establishment. An enthusiast for modern art, he invested most of his income in building his collection, the core of which was assembled from 1907 to the 1920s.
Dutilleul particularly appreciated the work of Paul Cézanne, but when modest means prohibited the purchase of post-Impressionist paintings, including those by Cézanne, he began collecting art that most closely resembled that modern master’s work. Thus, by default, he turned his attention toward the most advanced art of the period. One of the guiding principles behind Dutilleul’s acquisitions was painting format; he preferred moderately sized canvases. Acting on instinct and with a sharp eye, Dutilleul had a penchant for portraits and human figures. His first purchase—a Fauvist painting by Braque—was acquired from the Parisian dealer Berthe Weill, whom he held in great esteem.
Dutilleul began building his collection just as Kahnweiler was opening his gallery in Paris. Interested in Fauvist and Cubist painting, he became one of Kahnweiler’s most faithful clients, and he was probably the first French collector to pursue Cubist works. In truth, Dutilleul became the dealer’s student. For some time, Dutilleul’s collection closely mirrored that of his mentor, and it was Kahnweiler who pushed the young collector to consider the art of Juan Gris, Louis Marcoussis, and Pablo Picasso. Dutilleul purchased his first Cubist paintings, by André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, from Kahnweiler. By the time World War I broke out, Dutilleul had amassed more than fifty Cubist works by Picasso and Braque. The collector, who remained committed to Kahnweiler and the group of artists affiliated with the gallery after the war, eventually owned more than one hundred works by Braque, Fernand Léger, and Picasso.
Dutilleul was critical of Léonce Rosenberg’s involvement in the Kahnweiler sequestration sales held at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris between June 1921 and May 1923. The collector refused to buy at the auctions offering the German dealer’s confiscated stock and property whereby flooding the market with Cubist artworks at exceptionally low prices out of principle, with the exception of the gallery’s archival documents, which he bought at the fourth sale on May 7–8, 1923. In an act of kindness, Dutilleul returned the documents to Kahnweiler after the sale.
In early 1918, Dutilleul became infatuated with the work of Amedeo Modigliani with whom he formed a close relationship, a fact demonstrated by the artist’s 1919 portrait of the collector (Parisot 1991, no. 43). By 1925 Dutilleul had acquired thirty-four paintings and twenty-one drawings by the Italian artist, most of which were procured from the Polish-born poet and art dealer Léopold Zborowski. In addition to Modigliani, Dutilleul also cultivated an eclectic taste for the work of Paul Klee, Joan Míro, Vassily Kandinsky, Chaïm Soutine, and Joaquín Torres-García. Installation photographs of his small apartment at 48, rue de Monceau, show the remarkable size of Dutilleul’s collection. Some of the paintings he owned were hung in the bathroom—presumably because of lack of space—including Léger’s Sketch for "The Acrobats in the Circus" (1918; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection), which he had purchased from Léonce Rosenberg’s Galerie L’Effort Moderne in October 1918.
Upon his death in 1956, Dutilleul left his remarkable collection to his nephew, Jean Masurel. A collector in his own right, Masurel enriched his uncle’s holdings with those of his wife, Geneviève Masurel (née de la Rigodière). In 1979 the couple donated a significant portion of the collection to the city of Lille. As a tribute to his native region, Masurel wished for a museum of modern art to be built in the north of France, a desire that was realized in 1983 when the Lille métropole musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut (LAM) opened in Villeneuve-d’Ascq.
For more information, see
Assouline, Pierre. An Artful Life: A Biography of D.H. Kahnweiler, 1884–1979
. Translated by Charles Ruas. New York: G. Weidenfeld, 1990.
Bauquier, Georges. Fernand Léger: Catalogue raisonné. Le catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint. Vol. 1, 1903–1919. Paris: Adrien Maeght Éditeur, 1990.
Berthier, Francis. “La merveilleuse et grande aventure de Roger Dutilleul.” Galerie des Arts, no. 220 (December 1983–January 1984): 46–71.
“La parole est aux collectionneurs.” Art Présent. Special ed. Art & Argent (1948), 22–23.
Parisot, Christian. Modigliani, Catalogue raisonné. Vol. 2. Livorno: Éditions Graphis arte, 1991.