February 11, 2009 5:33 PM
The Art World's Ultimate Wheeler-Dealer
"I think he made purchasing difficult, and therefore people were all the more hungry to come in and get what they couldn't have," Tinterow said. "Louisine Havemeyer, the wife of the great sugar magnate, waited for an hour while Villard was chewing the fat with an artist friend of his. Finally, she tapped him and said, 'Excuse me Mr. Vollard, you know I've come to buy a Cezanne, as you know. And I have a boat.' And he turned to her imperiously and said, 'Well, madame, if you want to buy a Cezanne, there's always another boat.'"
Vollard showed off his eccentricities: He napped while collectors waited, he never showed buyers what they wanted to see, he even hid paintings in the back of his shop — but he had an extraordinary eye for talent and promotion. He gave artists one-man shows, some successful, some not, like Matisse.
In 1904, Vollard organized his first solo exhibition. It was a big disappointment. Nothing sold, not even a lovely portrait of a Musketeer painted in 1903 by Matisse. It's a work that many people wouldn't even recognize as a Matisse, Tinterow said.
"One wouldn't see Matisse's hand, except for the strange color sense here," Tinterow said while he examined the painting. "The blues and greens juxtaposed with this violet in the foreground this is Matisse avant les letters — before he had discovered his signature style."
Vollard did not buy his work, Matisse found another dealer — and soon after became a roaring success. They maintained a relationship, but were never close. The artist felt shunned by the dealer. For Vollard, Matisse represented a costly mistake.
"I think the relationship with any artist with their dealer is fraught, when one person has the money and the other one wants it," Tinterow said. "But it is clear that Vollard was not entirely forthcoming in his relationship with artists."
Artist Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin met Vollard in 1893 after he returned from his sojurn in Tahiti. Tinterow said the two never were able to agree and actually hated each other.
"And you know it's such a perfect human anecdote," he said. "Gauguin called Vollard deceitful, manipulative, basically called him a liar. And that's everything Gauguin was with Vollard."
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