Modern art dealer

Modern art dealer

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Title: Paul Guillaume, Novo Pilota.

Author : MODIGLIANI Amedeo (1884 - 1920)

Creation date : 1915

Date shown: 1915

Dimensions: Height 105 - Width 75

Technique and other indications: Oil on cardboard.

Storage place: Orangerie Museum

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet web site

Picture reference: 98-008349 / RF1960-44

Paul Guillaume, Novo Pilota.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: October 2005

Historical context

In the service of modern art

When the war broke out, Paul Guillaume opened his first gallery, he benefited from the enlightened advice of a poet and art critic very aware of the latest developments and endowed with a brilliant intuition, Guillaume Apollinaire. The rather informal association between the critic and the dealer is emblematic: the first helps to launch artists and the gallery through its chronicles, while the second takes financial risks. But Paul Guillaume is not a simple merchant, building collections in anticipation of better days; he sets out to be the committed and active mediator of living art. Understanding the need to draw attention to his foals and to make people talk about them, he invites the All-Paris to come, with a lot of publicity, to the openings of his gallery, or even organize memorable evenings where sometimes floats a scent of scandal, but supposed to rally the public to its cause: conference by Apollinaire with musical accompaniment by Satie, exhibition of already surrealist works by Chirico in 1917 on the stage of the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier in 1918, or "negro party" at the end of an African and Oceanic art exhibition the same year. The review he created in 1918, The Arts in Paris, was an organ promoting the avant-garde as much as a tool for publicity, and did not cease to appear until a few months after his death in November 1934.

Image Analysis

A new pilot

In 1915, the painter and sculptor of Italian origin Amedeo Modigliani painted the portrait of a well-dressed young man, who stared at him with a confident and somewhat casual air: Paul Guillaume, whose name appears in full in the upper left corner, appears here in his new beginner merchant clothes. Dressed in a black suit that contrasts with the white of a shirt accented with a deep blue tie, Paul Guillaume kept his hat, but also his leather gloves; the cigarette he casually holds in his left hand brings a touch of familiarity to the dandyism of the pose. The barely sketched backdrop, which highlights the model, reflects the simplicity of Modigliani's studio in Montmartre. The inscription "Novo Pilota" at the bottom of the painting reflects the audacity of this character who, then twenty-three years old like the fine features of the face and the discreet mustache let him guess, intends to take the reins of his destiny in hand. and modern art, like a racing driver, with a mixture of carefree insurance and assumed risk. In fact, from 1914 until the beginning of 1916, Paul Guillaume was the sole buyer of Modigliani. In a general context of destitution aggravated by the war, the merchant is his only support, obviously vital and courageous support.



Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) is undoubtedly the tutelary figure of the art dealer engaged in the promotion of modern art, such as Paul Guillaume embodies it. After having the audacity to purchase almost all of the output of several painters from the Barbizon school, he became the main dealer for Impressionist painters. He thus put his deep conviction ahead of his immediate financial interests. His judgment, his patience, his tenacity, proved him right. Without being disinterested, of course, the modern art dealer speculates on the duration, that which allows an artist to make a name, a public and an amateur clientele. At the same time that he supports artists still unknown, in particular through a regular income, the merchant undertakes to promote the work of his protégés and benefits, in return for this support, from often privileged and advantageous conditions of acquisition. He relies on career and reputation, which are now based on a personal style and manner. In good understanding with the art critic, whose fame depends to a large extent on his ability to discover new talents, the dealer intends to modify the judgment criteria of his contemporaries. One of the greatest modern art dealers of the 20th centurye century, Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler (1884-1979), summed up his mission well: opposing the "art dealer who supplied his buyers with the goods they wanted", he described himself as "a art dealer. who would offer to public admiration […] painters whom the public absolutely did not know and for whom a path would have to be cleared "and considered that" it is basically the great painters who create the great merchants "(H. and C. White, p. 103).

  • modernism
  • portrait
  • avant-garde
  • Apollinaire (Guillaume)
  • barbizon (school of)
  • art critic


Harrison C. and Cynthia A. WHITE, The career of painters in the 19th century, Paris, Flammarion, 1991 (American edition 1965). Malcolm GEE, Dealers, Critics, and Collectors of Modern Painting: Aspects of the Parisian Art Market between 1910 and 1930, New York-London, Garland Publishing, 1981.

To cite this article

Philippe SAUNIER, “Modern art dealer”


  • Barbizon School: Group of painters settled in Barbizon, in the forest of Fontainebleau, in the years 1840-50. They devote themselves mainly to landscape painting and herald Impressionism. The most famous are Camille Corot, Charles-François Daubigny, Jean-François Millet and Théodore Rousseau.

  • Video: How One Man Went From Homeless To Cancer Patient To A Millionaire Art Dealer. CNBC


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