The Pygmalion of the Avant-Garde

The Pygmalion of the Avant-Garde

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Though he had little formal art training and limited means, an ambitious young man by the name of Paul Guillaume opened a Paris art gallery in 1914. During the 20 years he was active as a dealer and champion of modern art, Guillaume — armed with the courage of his convictions, good taste and luck — created one of the world's finest collections of late 19th- and early 20th-century masterpieces, and made a tidy fortune along the way.

Many of the paintings he bought and sold have found their way into art museums across Europe and the United States. Most of his own private collection of 145 works went, after his death, to Paris' charming little Musée de l'Orangerie in the Tuileries Gardens near the Louvre. Until recently the collection, which was kept relatively intact by his widow, Domenica — she sold some works and purchased a few, such as a Monet and several Cézannes — has never been out of France.

Now, however, the Orangerie is undergoing extensive renovation, and 81 of those works are on tour. "This is the first time we've let them out of our hands, and it will be the last," says Orangerie curator Pierre Georgel. The exhibition was on view through October 15 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and will be on display at Fort Worth's Kimbell Art Museum from November 12 through February 25, 2001.

Among its riches, "From Renoir to Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée de l'Orangerie" includes 16 works by Renoir, 14 Cézannes, 10 Matisses, 9 Soutines, 7 Picassos, 6 Derains, 5 Modiglianis and 1 Monet, as well as paintings by Henri Rousseau, Maurice Utrillo and Marie Laurencin. More than simply a collection of masterpieces, however, the exhibition also shows how an individual of exceptional prescience and flair put together a remarkable collection in real time, not after the fact.

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