This is the first comprehensive exhibition devoted to Ambroise Vollard (1866–1939)—the pioneer dealer, patron, and publisher who played a key role in promoting and shaping the careers of many of the leading artists during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It includes one hundred paintings, as well as dozens of ceramics, sculpture, prints, and livres d'artistes commissioned and published by Vollard, dating from the time of his appearance on the Paris art scene in the late 1880s to his death in 1939.
The exhibition features works by Bonnard, Cézanne, Degas, Derain, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Maillol, Matisse, Picasso, Redon, Renoir, Rouault, Rousseau, Vlaminck, Vuillard, and others. Highlights include five paintings from Vollard's landmark 1895 Cézanne exhibition; a never-before-reassembled triptych from his 1896–97 Van Gogh retrospective; the masterpiece Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? from Vollard’s 1898 Gauguin exhibition; paintings from Picasso's first French exhibition (1901) and Matisse's first solo exhibition (1904); and three pictures from Derain's London series, painted in 1906–07 at Vollard's suggestion. The exhibition also includes numerous portraits of Vollard by leading artists, among them Cézanne, Bonnard, Renoir, and Picasso. Whether it was commissioned, exhibited, or owned by him, each of these works at one time passed through Vollard's hands.
Ambroise Vollard was a legend in his own lifetime. In 1887, at the age of twenty-nine, he arrived in Paris from Ile-de-la-Réunion, a remote French colony east of Madagascar, and soon made his reputation by presenting a Paul Cézanne retrospective that was possibly the most important exhibition of the 1890s. Cézanne's work was virtually unknown in Paris at the time, and Vollard took a significant financial risk in showcasing the 150 paintings that he displayed. The exhibition proved to be a success; many of the works sold, Cézanne's place in the pantheon of modern art was firmly established, and Vollard soon became the leading contemporary art dealer of his generation. He had a unique—some thought eccentric—approach to selling art, frequently dozing in his gallery, making a point of not showing his clients what they asked to see, and concealing most of his paintings behind a divider at the back of his shop. As the principal dealer of Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and a number of Fauve artists, as well as an early supporter of the Nabis, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso, Vollard played a key role in shaping the history of modern art.
The exhibition is made possible by The Florence Gould Foundation.
Education programs are made possible by The Georges Lurcy Charitable and Educational Trust.
The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris.
It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
The exhibition features individual rooms dedicated to Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso. Included are five of the paintings that Vollard displayed in his groundbreaking Cézanne exhibition of November 1895. In 1898 the dealer hosted a small exhibition of Gauguin's Tahitian-period paintings—the centerpiece of that show, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) is a highlight of the exhibition. Another point of special interest consists of three paintings that Vollard seems to have presented as a triptych in his 1896–97 Van Gogh exhibition: Banks of the Seine with Pont de Clichy in the Spring (Dallas Museum of Art), Fishing in Spring, The Pont de Clichy (Asnières) (The Art Institute of Chicago), and Woman in a Garden (private collection). Vollard recalled that, early on, "even the boldest were unable to stomach [Van Gogh's] paintings."
Other galleries in the exhibition focus on groups of artists, such as the Nabis and Fauves. Vollard championed the artists known collectively as the Nabis by purchasing their works, commissioning their prints, and holding two major group exhibitions at his rue Laffitte gallery in 1897 and 1898. This exhibition features paintings by Nabi artists Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Ker-Xavier Roussel, and Édouard Vuillard, as well as their lithograph albums, livres d'artistes, and Bonnard's bronze table sculpture, Surtout de Table (The Terrasse Children) (The Art Institute of Chicago), which was the subject of a 1902 exhibition at Vollard's gallery.
The Fauve room includes works made by a selection of artists who exhibited together in Paris in the famous 1905 Salon d'Automne. On display are paintings from Matisse's first solo exhibition—held at Vollard's gallery in June 1904—and three of André Derain's paintings of the Thames River, which Vollard commissioned around 1906 after seeing Monet's paintings of the same subject. Also featured in this gallery are colorful plates and vases that the Fauves produced in conjunction with the master ceramicist André Metthey at Vollard's request.
Vollard had a lifelong interest in publishing, and he played a vital role in the original printmaking revolution at the end of the nineteenth century. He was responsible for a number of celebrated albums of original lithographs by Bonnard, Denis, Roussel, and Vuillard, and his enthusiasm for publishing extended to the production of luxury livres d'artistes, monographs on Cézanne, Degas, and Renoir, and his own autobiography in 1936. The exhibition includes a room devoted exclusively to these books and prints. Vollard's personal copy of Émile Bernard's Oeuvres de François Villon (private collection), heightened in gouache by the artist, is also included, as well as a group of never-before-exhibited copper plates and proofs for Cirque de l’étoile filante, annotated with color notes by Georges Rouault (Fondation Georges Rouault, Paris).
The exhibition concludes with a gallery devoted to the work of Pablo Picasso, who had his first Parisian exhibition in 1901 at Vollard's gallery. Eight paintings from that exhibition are featured, including a portrait of Gustave Coquiot, who wrote the preface to the 1901 Picasso exhibition catalogue (Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d'art moderne/Centre de création industrielle). Vollard bought many of Picasso's Blue Period and Rose Period paintings, and new research has shown that he purchased Cubist paintings as well, among them Picasso's memorable portrait of Vollard (Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow). The one hundred etchings that compose Picasso's Suite Vollard series conclude the exhibition.