Bloomsbury Visual Arts - Introduction from the Editor-in-Chief

Introducing Bloomsbury Art Markets – Protagonists, Networks, Provenances

Johannes Nathan, Editor-in-Chief

Bloomsbury Art Markets – Protagonists, Networks, Provenances is the first comprehensive, peer-reviewed scholarly reference work on art galleries, auction houses, art fairs, dealers and selected individuals in Europe and North America from around 1900 to the present. It is hoped that this work will lay the foundation for a survey of the global art market that also includes Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania.

The art world is an exotic planet. Inhabited by multitudes of different specialists, its territories and their intricate relationships are still mostly uncharted. Indeed, the idea that this world primarily revolves around artists and the paths of their genius continues to hold sway, manifesting itself, for instance, in the undiminished popularity of monographs and exhibitions that promote the work of household names and stars—unsurprisingly, perhaps, for the essence of this narrative, spun centuries ago by writers such as Giorgio Vasari and countless predecessors and followers, strongly appeals to a wider audience.

And yet, swathes of research carried out since the mid-20th century have shown the limitations of such a perspective. Oblivious of the art world’s many other centers of gravity, it is as restrictive to an understanding of its functioning as was the geocentric world view to a comprehension of what is really seen in the sky. At last, however, a quasi-Galilean revolution—long in the making—is increasingly felt as multiplying perspectives reveal the extraordinary variety of human activity around the placing, curation, and promotion of artworks. Evidently, ingenuity and creativity are not the monopoly of artists. They are abundant in the work of patrons, collectors, curators, scholars, critics, conservators—and of course also in the art trade, whose professionals often take on great commitments when advocating their vision and discoveries.

Thus, art dealers and auctioneers such as Joseph Duveen, Jeanne Bucher, or Hugo Helbing—to pick just a small random sample—were among those who made significant contributions to the art world. Together with countless peers, they brought dormant or undiscovered provinces of art to new audiences, often experimenting with novel approaches and practices while doing so. The ensuing surges in the appreciation of specific artists, periods, and styles frequently affected the very canon of art—whose makeup and evolution, when seen from the market's perspective, turns out to be much more malleable than is commonly assumed.

Numerous figures of the trade thus left a lasting mark. Ambroise Vollard encouraged Pierre-Auguste Renoir to take up sculpture and approached artists to illustrate books in limited editions—works that would never have seen the light of day without his initiative. Leo Castelli was instrumental in opening the world’s eyes to postwar art in the United States. Ernst Beyeler, Aimé Maeght or Heinz Berggruen founded outstanding museums that exemplify their inventive vision. The often decisive roles played by these and many other protagonists of the market—scores of them still little-known—are only slowly emerging as research progresses. Indeed, the recent rise of provenance studies further deepens the understanding of the art trade, illuminating the fascinating, strange, and occasionally also sinister ways taken by cultural artefacts as they transit the marketplace.

Yet, despite their fundamental effect on the visibility and reception of art, and despite their evident contribution to the course of art history, the trade's protagonists have overall remained strangely understudied. Due to a lack of data, scholars still often cannot see the web of dealers, collectors, and museums at play in a particular historic situation. There is also very little information on key issues such as commercial exhibitions and publications or the development of prices and valuations. Indeed, students of the art market often keenly feel the dearth of even the most essential data on galleries and auction houses which they encounter during their research. Sadly, lacking awareness of the trade’s role has aggravated these problems as it often led—and continues to lead—to the disappearance and destruction of precious archival material.

It seems high time, then, to provide a root directory that helps to redress the balance. In pursuit of this objective, Bloomsbury Art Markets – Protagonists, Networks, Provenances unites thousands of entries on auction houses, art fairs, art dealers, galleries, and specialists who held a significant position in the trade. Fortunately, the idea to establish such a reference work—conceived by this author well over a decade ago—seemed convincing, even obvious to many. Its realization turned out to be rather more arduous than anticipated, however, for the art market is just as multi-faceted and compartmentalized as the world of artists, museums, and collectors. Hence, beyond dealing with well-known protagonists, the present work also had to address the hidden but noteworthy figures who were only discovered while research progressed—something that turned the making of this database into an exciting adventure.

Only a few people know, for instance, that Christian Dior had worked in the art market before turning to fashion design. Likewise forgotten was the significant role played by Berthe Weill, a courageously independent woman who exhibited budding yet still completely unknown masters such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, or Amedeo Modigliani. Peggy Guggenheim’s foray onto the London art market in 1938–39 had also long fallen into oblivion. Indeed, numerous famous figures from other areas of the art world, such as Wilhelm von Bode, were sometimes deeply tied into the market and many of these involvements remain overlooked or understudied. Vast areas—such as the French art market outside Paris, covered here with more than two-hundred pioneering entries—have been completely out of sight until researched for the present resource.

Typically, protagonists of the art market are networkers. Their success often rests on a dense system of personal contacts with artists, collectors, museum officials, critics, colleagues, and countless other specialists. The present resource aims to provide access to these crisscrossing paths as they regularly reveal unexpected but significant connections. Hence, apart from providing basic data on a firm or individual’s period of activity, its address(es) and its principal protagonists, the typical entry includes a list of artists whose work was on offer, a selection of shows, and, when possible, the names of the gallery’s main clients. In addition, entries on more important entities also feature a narrative that captures the most salient points and activities. If possible, a separate paragraph gives information on the economic situation as this frequently played a decisive role in the development and course of action of a particular business. Finally, for the benefit of readers who intend to engage in further research, available information on surviving archival holdings is also provided.

Given such copious information, the available search operations will not only enable users to find specific subjects in a range of contexts, they may also convey a geographic understanding of a firm or individual’s commercial interests, while the possibility to search by period and location can additionally provide impressions of evolving trends in a specific market. Nevertheless, in view of the areas that had to be left aside to make its mission accomplishable, this reference work can occasionally only provide signposts in a landscape that remains full of surprises.

In fact, the compilation of this resource, considerably more challenging than originally envisaged, was only made possible by the dedication and enthusiasm of countless friends and colleagues, notably three Managing Editors, fifteen Section Editors, more than five hundred authors and reviewers, and thirty-two distinguished members of the scholarly advisory board. Their unstinting support and advice, together with that of numerous other individuals who have generously helped us along, are deeply appreciated, all the more so as work on this publication, due to be completed in 2025, continues to progress after the launch. This means that some users may not yet find an entry on the particular gallery, auction house or individual for whom they are searching.

While lacunae are inevitable, the steadily accelerating flow of research will hopefully help to fill them. Thus, prominent institutions have established significant centers for research into the art market. Among them are the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD) in The Hague, the newly founded Wildenstein Plattner Institute in New York, the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich, and the Central Archive for German and International Art Market Studies (ZADIK) at the University of Cologne. Others, such as the Swiss Institute for Art Research in Zurich, the Institut national d’histoire de l’art in Paris, and the Freie Universität and the Technische Universität in Berlin, are devoting significant resources to this new area of research. Curricula on the subject are also mushrooming, as are journals specializing in the art market and provenance research. Not least, the International Art Market Studies Association, founded in 2016, provides an energetic platform for scholarly interaction for these rising activities. Bloomsbury Art Markets – Protagonists, Networks, Provenances will hopefully become a helpful tool for all who engage in the study of this fascinating subject.