Greatest Art Collectors Series:
Paul Guillaume

Biography of French Art Collector: Patron of Ecole de Paris.

Portrait of Paul Guillaume, one of
Paris's great art collectors.
Painted by Modigliani.

Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924)
Renaissance, Dutch Baroque collector.
Sergei Shchukin (1854-1936)
Patron of Matisse, Picasso.
Solomon R Guggenheim (1861-1949)
US art collector, museum-founder.
Ivan Morozov (1871-1921)
Russian collector of Cezanne, Bonnard.

Paul Guillaume (1891-1934)

The French art dealer, collector and publisher Paul Guillaume, was a promoter of avant-garde art and a well-known figure among artists of the early 20th century Ecole de Paris, many of whom benefited considerably from his contacts with rich American collectors like Dr Albert Barnes (1872-1951). He opened his first gallery in 1914 in Paris, with a show devoted to Rayonism. He also bought and sold works by numerous modern artists including Matisse (1869-1954), Francis Picabia (1879-1953), Andre Derain (1880-1954), Modigliani (1884-1920), Chaim Soutine (1894-1943), Renoir (1841-1919), Picasso (1881-1973) and Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1974), as well as the modernist sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957). More of a showman, than his predecessor Paul Durand Ruel (1831-1922), or his contemporaries Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) or Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler (1884-1979), Guillaume published Les Arts a Paris (1918-35), a review which both interpreted and promoted the artists he handled. He was also one of the first dealers associated with Primitivism/ Primitive Art, notably African sculpture. By the time of his premature death at the age of 42, as well as a significant sum of money, he had assembled one of the finest collections of modern art, including works by Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, Picasso and others. The bulk of this collection was acquired by the French State during the 1960s, and is now on public display at the Musee de l'Orangerie, in Paris.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942)
Founder of the Whitney Museum.
Samuel Courtauld (1876-1947)
Collector, Impressionist paintings.
Duncan Phillips (1886-1966)
Founder of Phillips Collection.
J Paul Getty (1892-1976)
Oil tycoon, art/antiquities collector.
Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979)
Collected modern abstract art.
Leo Castelli (1907-99)
Leading New York art dealer.
Charles Saatchi (b.1943)
Collects contemporary art.

For a guide to the different,
categories/meanings of visual
arts, see: Definition of Art.
For a list of different categories,
see: Types of Art.



Born into modest surroundings, the son of a Parisian tax collector, Gauillaume originally wanted to be a professional artist. However, with little formal art training, limited means, and a burning ambition to earn money, he went to work in an automobile workshop that also imported tyre-rubber from Africa. With his weekly savings began buying art: one of his first purchases was a painting by Picasso for 50 francs. In addition, he was greatly attracted by the primitive African art (masks, statues and other ethnographic artifacts) which were sometimes sent as gifts to the workshop inside deliveries of rubber.

Dealer in African Sculpture

Soon Guillaume was buying this tribal art direct from contacts inside French Colonial Africa, and selling it in Paris and overseas: even lending items for display at the ground-breaking New York show entitled Statuary in Wood by African Savages: The Root of Modern Art. He also organized a number of exhibitions of Negro art in Paris, including Sculptures Negres (1917) and the Premiere Exposition d'Art Negre et d'Art Oceanien (1919).

Opens Gallery

His early success with African and Oceanic art gave him several other benefits. First, it brought him to the attention of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso - both of whom were also devotees of African art - as well as the French poet and art critic Apollinaire (1880-1918), who introduced him to many established and emerging artists of the Ecole de Paris. Second, at a time when even top artists like Maurice Utrillo and Amedeo Modigliani were swapping pictures for food, the money Guillaume made from his Negro art financed the purchase of lots of paintings, many of which could be resold at a healthy profit. Third, it gave him the confidence to open his first art gallery in the fashionable Faubourg St-Honore, in the spring of 1914.

Guillaume lived in the hillside artist suburb of Montmartre, mixing with local avant-garde painters like Picasso, Braque and Gris, as well as Max Jacob, who introduced him to Modigliani at a time when the latter could find no one who was interested in his work. Indeed, Guillaume became Modigliani's only buyer from 1914 to 1916. (Both men were exempt from military service for health reasons, and passed the war years in Paris.) He also discovered and financially supported Chaim Soutine, whose energetic brushwork, thick impasto and unusual compositions shocked dealers and public alike.

For other influential art dealers in Paris who appeared at this time, see: Leonce Rosenberg (1879-1947) and his brother Paul Rosenberg (1881-1959).

Flamboyant Marketeer

Guillaume's innovative approach to marketing art - he once juxtaposed a series of 25 African sculptures with works by his stable of artists - included the publication of a regular review entitled Les Arts a Paris (1918-35), to which he contributed regular studies of works by the artists he represented, and which also attracted articles by modern writers like Apollinaire, Jean Cocteau, and others. Avant-garde Parisians lapped it up, cramming Guillaume's gallery on a regular basis, along with almost all the important French painters and sculptors.

Note: for Parisian collectors like Paul Guillaume, the main art shows included the Academy's official Salon, the Salon des Independants (from 1884), the Salon d'Automne (from 1903) and the very occasional Salon des Refuses whose main shows were held in 1863, 1874, 1875 and 1886.

Albert C. Barnes

At the same time, Guillaume retained a number of contacts in the United States, due to his dealings in African art. It was through these contacts that he met the multi-millionaire Philadelphia drugs manufacturer and philanthropist Albert C. Barnes, who was interested in acquiring works of French painting for his private art foundation in Pennsylvania. By 1922, Guillaume had become Barnes's No 1 dealer and closest adviser. For instance, according to one eye-witness, after a special showing arranged by Guillaume, Barnes bought 60 of Chaim Soutine's works, on the spot. Unable to contain himself, Soutine - up until then a virtual pauper - took the money, then ran into the street, hailed a taxi, and commanded the driver to take him to Nice, on the French Riviera, over 500 miles away. Guillaume was to prove so useful to the American that when the Barnes Foundation opened in Lower Merion Township in 1925, his role was commemorated by a bronze plaque at the entrance to Room 14.

Respected Figure

By his 40s, Guillaume was a highly respected figure throughout the art world, not merely for his financial clout and acumen as a dealer, but also for his good taste as a patron and private collector. It was during this time that he began to contemplate the foundation of a private museum of modern art, that would be open to the public - not unlike the Tretyakov Gallery set up by Pavel Tretyakov (1832-98) in Moscow. Sadly, the project lapsed with his sudden death from peritonitis in 1934, at the young age of 42 - an event which was met with disbelief by the whole of the Paris art world.

Guillaume's Collection at the Musee de l'Orangerie

Guillaume's wife, Dominica, who later remarried the wealthy industrialist Jean Walter, finally sold Guillaume's magnificent art collection to the French government in 1963. Known today (strangely) as the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume Collection, (although Walter had absolutely no involvement in it), the collection is on public display at the recently refurbished Musee de l'Orangerie, situated in the old orangery of the Tuileries Palace in the centre of Paris.


• For more about the finest artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more about fine arts buyers and their collections, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.