Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Ambrose Vollard, oil on canvas, 1910
Marc Chagall called Vollard “a great precursor.” Matisse recalled: “More than ten years ago, I met Vollard for the last time at Vittel. I reminded him of one of the old anecdotes he liked to bring out about female logic. Afterwards he said ‘Monsieur Matisse is a very dangerous man because he has an excellent memory.’” It has been recounted that in his shop on Rue Lafitte, piled high with Cézanne’s and Van Gogh’s paintings, Vollard used to light a lamp at dusk and pretend to sleep. He hoped to hear the opinions of possible collectors and passersby concerning the young painters whose works were hanging in the windows of his gallery and whose success he was anxious to share. When an aspiring young art dealer asked his advice, Vollard replied tersely, “You sleep a lot.”
With shrewd judgement Vollard had quietly acquired a magnificent collection of modern paintings. His policy of buying low and selling high inevitably brought results far exceeding even his own aspirations. He was willing to follow the advice of the artists who were forging a new vision but who were generally unaccepted by the Academy and ignored by many critics and dealers. He took the risks of dealing in their paintings, drawings and prints, which were not then fashionable. With seldom-challenged authority and a gruff dignity, Vollard assumed his exceptional position in the art world of Paris. But to Vollard this early success was simply a stepping stone, a means to still another objective. It was on the publishing of fine prints, albums, and illustrated books that he proceeded to spend – and lavishly – the growing wealth that modern paintings had brought him. For nearly forty-five years his publishing ventures were to occupy his time, his thoughts and his tireless energy. It was through them that he realized his desire for eminence as a publisher and entrepreneur.
From: Una E. Johnson, Ambrose Vollard, Editeur (Prints, Books, Bronzes), New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1977.
One of many “basement dinner parties” held by Ambrose Vollard at his gallery.
Pierre Bonnard, La Petite Blanchisseuse (The Little Laundry Girl), color lithograph, 1896. This image appears on the cover of Una Johnson’s MOMA book/catalogue.