Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979)
The German-born art dealer, publisher and historian Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler is regarded as one of the most important French art collectors of the early 20th century. He and his Parisian art gallery first came to prominence during the emergence of Cubism (1908-12) and he was among the first promoters of Cubist art and its founders Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963). Among the other painters and sculptors he supported, were members of the Ecole de Paris such as Andre Derain (1880-1954), Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958), Kees van Dongen (1877-1968), and Alberto Giacometti (1901-66), as well as the other two major Cubist painters, the Spaniard Juan Gris (1887-1927) and the French artist Fernand Leger (1881-1955). In addition to buying and selling (mostly) non-objective art by the newest artists, Kahnweiler also wrote Der Weg zum Kubismus, an important book on Cubism, along with a key monograph on Gris - the leading theorist of the movement.
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Born in Mannheim, Germany, he trained for a career in finance, but soon developed a passion for modern art. After a short spell of work in London, he opened his first art gallery in 1907, at 28 Rue Vignon Paris, supported by his family.
Largely ignorant about painting and the art world, he bought what appealed to him - namely works of Fauvism by Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck and Georges Braque. Soon afterwards he began buying Cubist paintings by Picasso as well as Braque, both of whom gave him exclusive rights to their work.
Champion of Cubist Painting
It was at this time, as a spokesman for Cubism, that Kahnweiler made his name. He was one of very few people to recognize the importance of Picasso's shocking painting Les Demoiselles D'Avignon (1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York), which he instantly wanted to buy, along with the rest of Picasso's works. A celebrated 1910 portrait of Kahnweiler painted by Picasso is an indication of the close relationship between the two men at that time. Some of Kahnweiler's most lucrative deals involved the Russian collectors Sergei Shchukin (1854-1936) and Ivan Morozov (1871-1921). The artist later commented: "What would have become of us without Kahnweiler's business sense?" In addition to buying and selling works of avant-garde art by his stable of artists, Kahnweiler published numerous books whose illustration was done by the painters whose works he marketed, and was the first to publish works by Max Jacob (1876-1944), Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), Andre Masson (1896-1987), Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), Pablo Picasso, and many others.
World War I
In 1914, Kahnweiler fled to Rome to avoid German military service, finally settling in Berne, Switzerland, where he began writing his first book, Der Weg zum Kubismus (The Rise of Cubism), which appeared in 1920. Unfortunately, his forced wartime absence in neutral Switzerland, due to his German citizenship, led to the closure of his gallery and the confiscation of its stock. In addition it allowed rival dealers - Leonce Rosenberg (1879-1947) and his brother Paul Rosenberg (1881-1959) - to sign contracts with Picasso and others, thus becoming the main source of Cubist art. It was also during the war that Paul Guillaume (1891-1934) became established as a leading collector in Paris. They also handled the post-war liquidation of Kahnweiler's confiscated stock, and thus extended their holdings of Cubist painting at knock-down prices.
Despite these reverses, Kahnweiler returned to Paris in 1920 with André Simon in 1920 and opened his new gallery known as Galerie Simon, where he dealt in works of surrealism by Paul Klee (1879-1940) and Andre Masson (1896-1987). He attempted to retrieve his art collection, which had been sequestrated by the French government, as the property of an enemy alien, and with the assistance of his brother Gustave and the art dealer Alfred Flechtheim was able to redeem part of his former property. It was during this time that he fell out with Picasso and Juan Gris when he insisted on becoming their exclusive agent. In 1937 he became a naturalized French citizen.
World War II and Aftermath
At the beginning of the Second World War his non-Jewish sister-in-law Louise Leiris bought his stock and business, changing its name to Galerie Louise Leiris. Meantime Kahnweiler went into hiding with his wife near Limoges in the south of France, until France was liberated in 1944, after which he served as a director of Galerie Louise Leiris until his death, turning the gallery into one of the top 100 French exporters. Unfortunately, the quality of post-war art proved a huge disappointment to him: he discovered only one new artist - Sebastien Hadengue (b.1932). Notwithstanding this, Kahnweiler staged more than 80 exhibitions of works by Picasso, Braque, Paul Klee, Masson, Leger, and Gris. Furthermore, he wrote a number of books on modern art in general and Cubist painting (biography of Juan Gris, published in 1947) in particular. His autobiography Mes Galeries et Mes Peintres (My Galleries and Painters) was published in 1961. He died in 1979 in Paris at the age of 95.