The Paul Guillaume Collection of African Art Comes to the Valentine Gallery

According to Dr. Albert C. Barnes, Parisian art dealer Paul Guillaume's greatest contribution to the art world was that he rescued African Art "from its mere ethnological significance and converted it into a well of unsuspected spiritual richness from which the whole modern movement in art has drunk deeply."*

Paul Guillaume (1891-1934) arrived in Paris during the first decade of the twentieth-century. He worked in an upscale garage that imported rubber for tires from the French colonies. One of the suppliers included a statuette in a rubber shipment as a gift for Guillaume that he placed on display in the garage's window. There the piece attracted the attention of art critic and poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, who came inside to inquire about it. The two men became friendly and Apollinaire introduced Guillaume to his artist friends including Maurice de Vlaminck, André Derain, Amedeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso. All shared an interest in African sculpture.

With access to the works of this circle of artists, Paul Guillaume opened a gallery in February 1914 but was forced to close that summer due to the war. In an effort to generate income, Guillaume gave Marius de Zayas a trunk full of sculptures to take to New York to exhibit at Alfred Stieglitz's gallery "291." Objects that had previously only appeared in natural history museums were displayed on pedestals and artfully installed on the walls against large sheets of red, yellow, and black paper. Presenting the sculpture as "the root of modern art," "291" was the first to show African sculpture as Art.

Guillaume reopened his gallery in 1917 and soon became an important venue for the School of Paris. By 1929 he was financially overextended, however, and decided to sell his collection of African art. Recognizing an opportunity to display and market such a well-known and highly respected collection, Valentine Dudensing offered to publish a lavish, fully-illustrated catalogue documenting the works. Guillaume consented and in the spring of 1930, the Valentine Gallery presented an exhibition of seventy-four pieces from the Paul Guillaume Collection.

An Exhibition of Rare African Sculptures ran from March 24-April 12, 1930 and featured statues and masks from the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Sudan, and Gabon. The Valentine Gallery audience had come to know the School of Paris paintings that were inspired by Guillaume's African collection and now they had the rare opportunity to see and even acquire the pieces for themselves.

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*Laurie Eglington, "Untimely Passing of Paul Guillaume Evokes Memories," The Art News (October 27, 1934), 4. 

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Twelve Portraits by Modigliani

"I have never seen a better group of Modiglianis than that now installed at the Valentine," wrote Edward Alden Jewell for the New York Times.* He was referring to a selection of portraits on view at the Valentine Gallery in early January 1940.** All but one of the dozen paintings were from the collection of Paul Guillaume, the art dealer who met and began representing Modigliani in Paris in 1914. For the next two years the dealer guided the artist's career and, as Guillaume noted, he was the only one buying Modiglianis in 1915.

Paul Guillaume had been an important source of artwork for the Valentine Gallery since the late 1920s and, because of his business relationship with Valentine Dudensing, many of the best works from Guillaume's inventory are now in American museum collections. After Paul died in October 1934, his 36-year old widow, Juliette "Domenica" Guillaume, took over her husband's business. In 1935 Domenica began shipping paintings to New York to be exhibited at the Valentine Gallery with the hope that Dudensing would sell them to his American clientele. Many of the works that didn't sell were returned to Paris after the war and are now part of the Guillaume Collection at the Musée de l'Orangerie.

Dudensing published a checklist for the Modigliani exhibition but, because it lists only titles, the works are difficult to identify. From the gallery's sales records we know that Dudensing sold three Guillaume Modiglianis after the exhibition closed: Lola de Valence, 1915, to Adelaide M. de Groot (1876-1967), an artist and collector, in January 1941; the following month Billy Rose (1899-1966), the American entertainer, bought Jean Cocteau, 1916. In May 1943 Dudensing sold Jean de Rouveyre, 1915, to Maria Martins (1894-1973), the sculptress and wife of the Brazilian Ambassador to the U.S. Only one painting in the exhibition was a loan: Lunia Czechowska, 1919, came from the collection of the Chester Dale Foundation. The painting was not part of Dale's bequest to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Below is the checklist with my attempt to reconstruct the exhibition based on provenance information gleaned from catalogues and museum records; images of the works appear at the bottom of this page. Because I cannot confirm the inclusion of all the works with absolute certainty, I welcome input from readers who may have additional provenance information. Other paintings by Modigliani that passed through the Valentine Gallery and are in American museum collections today can be found in the section of this website titled "Artwork."

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1) Jean Cocteau (1916, Princeton Art Museum, New Jersey; on long-term loan from the Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation) 

2) Moise Kisling (likely c. 1915, Private Collection)

3) Mademoiselle R. (likely Raimonde - painting not yet identified)

4) Lola de Valence (1915, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

5) Beatrice Hastings (likely 1915, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto)

6) Antonia (c. 1915, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris)

7) J. de Rouveyre (Jean de Rouveyre, 1915, Private Collection)

8) Madame C. (painting not yet identified)

9) Tête de Femme (likely Red-Haired Girl, 1915, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris)

10) Portrait (possibly Portrait of a Woman, c. 1917-18, Cleveland Museum of Art) 

11) Femme au chignon (likely Woman with Velvet Ribbon, 1915, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris)  

12) Lunia Czechowska, loaned by Chester Dale Foundation (c. 1918, Private Collection)

 

*"Modern French Painting," The New York Times (Jan. 21, 1940), X9.

**The show ran from January 8 - February 3, 1940.