Searching for the Great Man

Behind the important collector Paul Guillaume stood a very ordinary woman

Luck came in the form of the Great War, which removed the 800-pound gorilla of avant-garde art dealers, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. (Kahnweiler, a German Jew with pacifist sympathies, exiled himself to Switzerland for the duration.) Guillaume, who remained in Paris "for obscure health reasons," attempted to fill the void. Though Apollinaire and Kahnweileer had once been friends--in fact, Kahnweiler had published Apollinaire's first book--the poet was only too happy to provide poaching advice. "For Picasso, I think you would have to guarantee him about 50,000 francs a year," advised Apollinaire. "The others less--but see Braque...write to Marie Laurencin...If you succeed, I shall of course be part of your new scheme." Guillaume's scheme, alluded to in a 1915 Modigliani portrait on display at the Kimbell, was nothing less than to replace Kahnweiler as the primary champion of modernism. To memorialize his dealer's ambitions, Modigliani wrote "novo piloto" in the lower left corner--designating Guillaume the "new helmsman" of modernism, a heady ambition for one so new to art and art dealing. The scheme might well have succeeded but for the presence of a better-funded rival, Leonce Rosenberg, whose effect on the market was memorably described by Jean Cocteau: "In short, a man, a Jew who buys paintings at high prices and isn't a fashion designer or a dilettante. It's the kind of folly one likes."

Guillaume looked to conquer America too. In 1914 and 1915 Guillaume shipped masks and paintings to New York, where they were exhibited at a gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue. Following Apollinaire's example, Guillaume had learned the ruse of hiding his pecuniary interest; the show's catalog praised Guillaume's "disinterestedness" in lending the objects, when, in fact, he was shipping these and other items for sale. Back in Paris, Guillaume and Apollinaire launched another promotional ruse with scholarly airs--a magazine, Les Arts á Paris, to which both men contributed pseudonymously.


The Kimbell's exhibition, however, contains little about this critical early period, which ended with Apollinaire's death in November 1918. And it's not much better on the details of Guillaume's relationship with the important mentor of his mature years, Dr. Albert Barnes, a Philadelphia physician, pharmacist, industrialist, and more to the point, a wealthy and insatiable collector.
This one survived survived the widow with bad taste: Amedeo Modigliani's "Paul Guillaume, Novo Pilota," part of the Kimbell's new exhibit.
This one survived survived the widow with bad taste: Amedeo Modigliani's "Paul Guillaume, Novo Pilota," part of the Kimbell's new exhibit.

Details

Through February 25, 2001 (817) 332-8451
Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth

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An essay from the catalog of the Barnes exhibition--which stopped at the Kimbell in 1994--suggests Barnes and Guillaume met "in the early 1920s," when Barnes began to purchase African sculpture. By that time, Dr. Barnes, a committed intellectual and an equally serious eccentric, had been purchasing art for years through a variety of dealers and agents, none of whom lasted very long. The Kimbell's catalog accurately describes their relationship; Guillaume "absorbed Barnes' notions like a chameleon" and Barnes "responded by showering him with dollars."

Many a dealer had set out to bag the famously difficult doctor as a client, and Guillaume's success in doing so immediately raised his cachet. Guillaume managed to ride this horse until sometime around 1927, when he had the inevitable falling-out with Barnes. (Unfortunately, the organizers of this exhibition make no effort to shed new light on many aspects of this relationship, including the split.) Along the way, both Guillaume and Barnes got a great deal out of the collaboration. Although estimates have differed as to how much of Barnes' collection was acquired through Guillaume--in the finest tradition established by its founder, the Barnes Foundation's documents remain largely inaccessible to scholars--it is clear that many of Barnes' masterpieces, and virtually all of the African sculpture, came through Guillaume.

Barnes made Guillaume one of his trusted lieutenants, appointing him to the board of the Barnes Foundation and relying on him as a sounding board, agent, picture hound, and bootlicking pupil. For his part, Guillaume got more than just power and money from the connection; he also got hoity-toity airs. As he had once absorbed tricks of the art trade from Apollinaire, so Guillaume seems to have adopted Barnes' educational and philanthropic philosophies. Barnes had always envisioned his collecting not just as a pursuit of ego and intellect, but as a tool for educating the masses; when he first started collecting, he hung his prizes in his factory, organizing discussion groups for workers complete with required readings in the philosophy of aesthetics.

By the time Barnes dumped Guillaume, the latter seems to have decided to move from art dealer to arts patron. Writing pseudonymously in Les Arts á Paris, in 1927 Guillaume began to leak details of his plans, lavishing praise on himself for his yet-to-be-realized generosity. In fact, Guillaume, who never lacked for moxie, would go Dr. Barnes one better; Guillaume's "house-museum" would have few of the restrictions Barnes imposed on his visitors. The Kimbell's exhibition catalog documents this purported change in the way Guillaume viewed his collection, from sales tool to labor of "pure" art-love, not to be sold as needed but to be given to the state.

Predictably, these noises whipped art bureaucrats and French curators into states of near-frenzy. The honors started rolling in: Thus the former tire dealer and man who helped remove much of France's cultural heritage to America received the Legion d'Honneur and was appointed to prestigious posts, including the Conseil Superieur des Beaux-Arts. But for the French Revolution, he would, like his crooked British contemporary Joseph Duveen, undoubtedly have been knighted by the King.

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