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I completely agree with the prior assessments of reviewers Grady Harp and Claude Reich: Vollard was a kind of bigger-than-life figure and deserves this excellent tribute. It might be helpful to potential purchasers of this large volume (450 pp.) to know more fully what it contains, and to that end I add the following brief synopsis and a bit of commentary. It should be said at the beginning that this is another example of the outstanding professionalism of the curatorial staff of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which initiated the project and was subsequently joined by curators from The Art Institute of Chicago and the Musee d'Orsay. The book is divided into five major sections. 1) "The Man and His Artists" (170 pp.) After a summary look at Vollard's career in general, there are essays on his relationship with individual artists and groups: Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Odilon Redon and the Nabis, Picasso, the Fauves, Matisse, Renoir and the Impressionists, Degas and Rouault. 2) "Vollard, Editeur" (44 pp.) Five essays on his activities as commissioner/purveyor of sculptures of Maillol and Picasso and publisher of print albums, "livres d'artiste," and his own writings. 3) "Vollard and His Clients" (38 pp.) Three essays, one general and one each specifically on German and Russian collectors. (4) "The Vollard Estate" (14 pp.) Three essays: the dispersal of his enormous holdings after his death, the archives, and his accounts. 5) A "Selected Chronology" of Vollard's life (30 pp.) and list of "Exhibitions chez Vollard" (17 pp.) indicating, when available, the works exhibited. There follows an 83-pp. small-print alphabetical catalog of the 202 exhibited works (all of which, the editors assure us, passed at one time or another through Vollard's hands), with the usual descriptive and provenance data and excellent annotated commentary. The volume concludes with an extensive bibliography of 23 pages and a meticulously detailed index of works, places, and people. It is difficult to think of any comprehensive study of Vollard as patron of the avant-garde that could supersede this one.
Vollard arranged for the first one-man shows of Cezanne, van Dongen, Vlaminck, Maillol, Matisse, Picasso , "e tutti quanti," and was active right up to his death in l939: no one can doubt his importance as an art dealer. But there is one nagging concern that keeps coming up and forms a kind of leitmotiv in all these studies, and that is the question of his business ethics. Was it justified to pun on his name, as some of his artists did, as "Vollard/Voleur" (thief) or to refer to him outright as "Vole-art" ("steals art"), or was that just a cheap shot? Was he, as the art dealer Rene Gimpel had heard, "beastly to artists"; and was it true that, as he supposed, "only Picasso was paid in full" (298)? We can never be sure, of course, and even the great amount of information in this volume leaves the issue unsettled. My impression, though, is that he was probably no more hard-nosed a bargainer than his competitors were, and that most of the grousing was of the sort that perennially characterizes dealings between sellers and buyers on an open market. He was, in the end, running a business and not a charity; when things worked out, he made a lot of money, but he also lost a lot when they didn't. True, in early 1900 he paid Cezanne 250 francs for "Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaducts of the Arc River Valley" and sold it to H. O. Havemeyer a little over a year later for 15,000 francs (339 f.), but that is not theft; it's just exceptionally good business, and Cezanne, who was not the most trusting of souls, had complete faith in his dealer's honesty. (Whereas Gauguin, who was off in the South Seas and constantly fretting about his Paris sales, called him "a predator of the worst kind." ) Vollard became a wealthy and propertied man, but so did Monet, Renoir, Picasso, and others. If, after a certain time, he sold a painting for ten times what he had paid for it, we should not forget that the artist might have done so too, and that the ability of the artist to sell at ever higher prices was due in large part to Vollard's ceaseless activity on his behalf, in advocacy and proselytizing. He was surely not a saint; but he may at least have been an example of a man who did well by doing good.