Index of Historic Collectors and Dealers of Cubism
Leiris, Julien Michel and Louise
Paris, 1901–Saint-Hilaire, France, 1990, and Paris, 1902–Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, 1988
Louise Leiris (born Louise Alexandrine Godon) was Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s step-daughter and director of the Galerie Louise Leiris in Paris. Her husband Michel was a surrealist poet, biographer, and an Africanist ethnographer employed at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris from 1934–88. Louise and Michel shared a passion for collecting art and pursued their interests eventually developing two significant collections: the first was focused on modern art and at its height numbered over two hundred works by such artists as Francis Bacon, Georges Braque, Alberto Giacometti, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, and Picasso. In 1984 they donated this collection to the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, where it is still housed today and is exhibited alongside that of Kahnweiler, who also donated his personal collection to the museum in 1961. The couple also assembled a collection of over three hundred works on paper and ceramic, metal, and stone objects of African, pre-Columbian, and Asian art. This collection was donated to the Musée de l’Homme over the period of 1948–63 and later transferred to the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac.

Louise was the daughter of Kahnweiler’s wife, Lucie Godon, although she is often misidentified as Godon’s sister. An active promoter of the arts, Louise became Kahnweiler’s close collaborator throughout the 1920s and 30s and developed relationships with many of the artists represented in his gallery. A French Catholic, Louise purchased Kahnweiler’s Galerie Simon in 1941 to circumvent laws regarding Jewish property after the rise of the Vichy government in France during World War II. That same year, the business was renamed the Galerie Louise Leiris, under which it continues to operate today. Working closely with Kahnweiler, Louise exhibited and sold the work of many of the same artists her stepfather had represented in his earlier galleries, the Galerie Kahnweiler and the Galerie Simon, especially the Cubist artists Braque, Gris, Léger, and Picasso.

Michel had a less direct path to art collecting. The son of a businessman, in 1920 he began studying chemistry at the Institut de Chimie, but abandoned his studies by 1923 to pursue writing. During that time, he befriended such young French poets as Antonin Arnaud, Max Jacob, and André Masson, who encouraged him to become a writer. Through Masson, Michel joined the Surrealist movement and became an active contributor to the surrealist journal, La Révolution surréaliste. It was also through Masson that, in 1922, Michel Leiris was introduced to Kahnweiller and met Louise Godon. In 1925, he wrote his first book Simulacre, published by Kahnweiler’s Galerie Simon. Louise and Michel Leiris were married on February 2, 1926. Although Michel’s career went through another shift when he became an ethnographer at the Musée de l’Homme, he continued to write about art until the end of his life.

The core of the Leiris collection is indebted to the relationships cultivated by Kahnweiler, as a significant portion of the over two hundred total works is comprised of paintings and works on paper by the four Cubists the dealer exclusively represented in the early 1910s. The collection includes eighteen paintings by Picasso, as well as dozens of drawings; twenty-nine works by Gris; nineteen drawings and paintings by Léger; and eleven works by Braque. Michel and Louise also made many important additions to this core group, especially through Michel’s associations with French Surrealists. Active throughout his life in the literary avant-garde, Michel developed close friendships with some of the artists whose work was sold through the gallery, initially Giacometti, Masson, Joan Miró, and later, Bacon and Wifredo Lam. Michel wrote often about these artists, publishing dozens of articles and books about their work, and except for Lam, the Leiris collection also boasts fine examples of their art.

Contributed by Maria Castro, July 2017
For more information, see:
Angliviel de La Beaumelle, Agnès, Marie-Laure Bernadac, and Denis Hollier. Leiris & Co. Exh. cat. Paris: Centre Pompidou-Metz, 2015.

Monod-Fontaine, Isabelle, et al. Donation Louise et Michel Leiris: Collection Kahnweiler ­Leiris. Exh. cat. Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1984.