Washington Square Gallery in New York was established in 1914 by sculptor Michael Brenner (1885–1969) and painter Robert J. Coady (1881–1921). It specialized in avant-garde art.
Brenner and Coady likely met in Paris sometime before 1912, and it is through Gertrude and Leo Stein that they established connections with Parisian artists and dealers. The name of the partners’ gallery derived from its location at 47 Washington Square South in Greenwich Village (at a later date the gallery relocated to a larger adjacent space at 46 Washington Square South). After it opened, the establishment joined a handful of similar enterprises in New York, for example Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery and Marius de Zayas’s Modern Gallery.
Brenner, who was based in Paris, acted as the scout for the gallery, while the New York–based Coady was primarily manager. In the spring of 1914, the partners signed a one-year contract with the Cubist dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, which awarded the gallery exclusive rights to sell works by Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, and Pablo Picasso in the United States. However, with the outbreak of World War I and the subsequent sequestration of Kahnweiler’s stock by the French government, the deal did not last long. Some of the Cubist art traced to the gallery are paintings by Gris, Still Live with Flowers (1912; Museum of Modern Art, New York), Grapes (1912; Museum of Modern Art, New York), and Pears and Grapes on a Table (1913; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection).
The gallery’s inaugural exhibition in December 1914 was devoted to Picasso. Brenner and Coady also showed works by other well-known avant-garde artists, including André Derain, Gris, Henri Matisse, Picasso, Diego Rivera, and Henri Rousseau, as well as lesser-known individuals who came from the Lithuanian-born Brenner’s circle of Eastern European artists who were active in Paris: George Carlock, Michel Kikoine, and Pinchus Kremegne. The gallery also exhibited African sculpture. In 1917 it was renamed Coady Gallery, and was relocated to 489 Fifth Avenue across from the New York Public Library, just a couple of doors down from the Modern Gallery. The name change signaled the split between Coady and Brenner, because of the latter’s financial difficulties. One of the gallery’s prominent clients was John Quinn. In addition to running the gallery, Coady was the art editor of the journal The Soil (1916–17), which advocated the development of distinctly American modern art. As a side venture, he also sold photographs of modern art, supplied by Kahnweiler, to local art students. In doing so, he contributed to popularizing Cubist art in the United States.
For more information, see
Goldstein, Malcolm. Landscape with Figures: A History of Art Dealing in the United States
. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Zilczer, Judith K. “Robert J. Coady, Forgotten Spokesman for Avant-Garde Culture in America.” American Art Review 2 (November–December 1975): 77–89.
The Michael Brenner Papers, 1888-1976, are housed at the Archives of American Art, The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. A finding guide is available online.