The Art World's Ultimate Wheeler-Dealer

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Painter Henri Matisse called him fifi voleur — a crude way of saying thief. Paul Cezanne called him "an honest man." The relationship between artist and dealer is certainly love-hate, and Ambroise Vollard was one of the most powerful art dealers of all time.

The results of his unrivaled eye for spotting talent and making a fortune are on view for another week in "Cezanne to Picasso" at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Monet looked at Cezanne. Degas bought Cezanne, then Picasso's given a show," one of the curators of the show, Gary Tinterow told CBS News correspondent Morley Safer. "Soon Picasso is painting like Cezanne and creating cubism. So the formation of early modern art in Paris the first years of the 20th century was very much in dialogue with what was happening in Vollard's gallery.

Vollard was born in 1866 on the island of Reunion, a French colony in the Indian Ocean. He arrived in Paris in 1887 as a law student. Between lectures he wandered the banks of the Seine, hunting the book stalls for prints and drawings — and a dealer was born.

With a small inventory, he set up shop on the rue Lafitte, a "street of pictures" he called it. Art dealers lined both sides of the boulevard. Paris at the turn of the century was the art capitol of the world, and Vollard was in the heart of it.

In 1895, at the age of 29, he mounted his first major show in Paris. He bought 150 works for next to nothing from a relatively unknown artist, Paul Cezanne. One of the painting is "The Eternal Feminine."

"We can recognize this brush stroke as something that he would use later in life, but the subject matter of this woman being celebrated by trombones it's just a riot and the kind of paintings that when people saw them gave rise to the epithet, 'Cezanne is a madman'" Tinterow said while looking at the painting with Safer

Cezanne was a madman who became a modern master almost overnight. Renoir, Monet and Matisse bought his work — and Vollard's reputation, not to mention his fortune, was made.

About 680 paintings — two-thirds of Cezanne's work — passed through Vollard's hands at double, even triple the price, and sometimes even more, like this portrait of "The Smoker." Vollard bought it in 1899 for $1,000. He sold it 10 years later for $88,000.
  • Caitlin Johnson

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