André Level was a Parisian businessman, critic, and art collector from a prominent French family of industrialists who established a reputation as a champion of the avant-garde and expert on African art. The owner of Galerie Percier, he is also known for La Peau de l’Ours, a highly successful, speculative investment venture that purchased the work of modern and contemporary artists.
While serving as a secrétaire general of the Compagnie des Docks & Entrepots de Marseilles, Level initiated La Peau de l’Ours in 1904, and over ten years, he and his investors purchased 145 works by 60 artists, including Maurice Denis, Raoul Dufy, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Odilon Redon, Vincent van Gogh, and Édouard Vuillard. The venture’s collection was sold at Hôtel Drouot, Paris, on March 2, 1914. Carefully staged and widely advertised, the auction was a major event in Parisian art circles and financial success. Notably, the shareholders agreed to split profits from the sale with the artists. In subsequent years Level expanded his interest beyond modern and contemporary art to non-Western art. He began collecting, publishing, and exhibiting African art.
In 1922, Level established Galerie Percier at the corner of avenue Percier and rue La Boëtie in Paris. The gallery’s investors included the prominent contemporary art collector André Lefèvre, whom Level advised on art purchases; Level’s nephews, Max and Raoul Pellequer; and the businessman and collector Alfred Richet. Picasso, Level’s personal friend, also lent his support to the gallery by giving the dealer some of his work for the gallery’s stock. The gallery’s early exhibitions featured works by André Beaudine, Alexander Calder, and the brothers Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner, and became a meeting place for local artists, dealers, and collectors. The gallery closed around 1946.
In 1927 Level decided to sell his personal art collection. Assembled since the 1890s, it included many Cubist works by Picasso, Juan Gris, and Fernand Léger, as well as paintings and works on paper by Giorgio de Chirico, Amedeo Modigliani, Georges Rouault, and Chaim Soutine. It was sold at Hôtel Drouot on March 3, 1927, the date purposefully selected to coincide with that of La Peau de l’Ours’s sale thirteen years earlier.
In addition to his writings on African art, Level is the author of Picasso’s third biography, which appeared in 1928.