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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Stuart Davis and "The Egg Beater Series" By Way of De Chirico

While the Valentine Gallery’s program built its reputation by showing School of Paris paintings, Valentine Dudensing also organized important exhibitions of American artists. In addition, he was known to have been generous with young artists and allowed them to peruse the contemporary European art in his inventory.

Stuart Davis (1892-1964) was one artist who benefitted from the dealer’s largesse. Dudensing included Davis in a group show in the fall of 1927; at that time he was organizing the first U.S. exhibition of Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings from the inventory of the Parisian art dealer, Paul Guillaume.

It seems likely then that Davis saw an image of de Chirico’s The Song of Love (1914; Museum of Modern Art, NY) at the gallery. The painting belonged to Guillaume and featured a rubber glove nailed to a wall, hanging next to a classical plaster head. While he did not end up showing this particular work, Dudensing included five paintings from 1913-14 in which de Chirico depicts arrangements of strangely unrelated objects. Paintings by Giorgio de Chirico opened at the Valentine Gallery in late January 1928 and the exhibition was a tremendous success.*

Between the late fall of 1927 and the spring of 1928, Stuart Davis devoted himself to working on what became known as “the Egg Beater Series.” He nailed a fan, a rubber glove, and an eggbeater to a table top and spent months painting this composition. Did de Chirico’s painting inspire the series? Based on the date of Davis's first study for the series -- November 6, 1927 -- it seems likely that it did.

From April to May 1928, Dudensing presented Davis’s Eggbeater series in a joint exhibition with paintings by Glenn Coleman. While Davis’s paintings remained unsold after the exhibition, they were considered a critical success.** As he later recalled his intent for the series was to “strip a subject down to the real physical source of its stimulus. Everything I have done since is based on the eggbeater idea.”***

Today the four Eggbeater paintings are in American museum collections:

Egg Beater No. 1 - Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Egg Beater No. 2 - Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth

Egg Beater No. 3 - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Egg Beater No. 4 - Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

 

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Special thanks to Timothy Andrus for providing the dates of Davis's studies for the series and to Lynn Rother of MoMA for confirming the provenance of the de Chirico painting.

*For more on de Chirico at the Valentine Gallery, see my post of October 18, 2016.

**Edward Alden Jewell, "Davis Tames a Shrew: How What Seemed 'Abstract' Proved 'Realistic,'" New York Times (April 29, 1928), Sec. C, p. 18.

***Stuart Davis quoted in Stuart Davis, exh. cat. (NY: Museum of Modern Art, 1945), pp. 16-17.

 

 

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