Many may know art dealers active during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries like Durand-Ruel, Vollard, Rosenberg, Wildenstein, Kahnweiler… Less known is probably Berthe Weill, however… she was the first to sell works by Picasso, Matisse… the only one who organised a solo exhibition by Modigliani during his lifetime… but she never made a fortune despite some almost 40 years of activity.
I recently bought a book by a young lady, Marianne Le Morvan, about the fascinating Berthe Weill… and I got even more curious and thought that I must include something about her in my blog. I have used a lot of information from Marianne Le Morvan’s book, but also from her blog … and from elsewhere.
Berthe Weill (1865-1951) started to work and get practice in an antique shop, She opened a modest shop with her brother in 1897 – she was 32 – but her real interest had become “art”. In 1900 she came in contact with the young Picasso, newly arrived in Paris, who had one of his Barcelona paintings (this one?) exhibited at the “Exposition Universelle”. She sold first three corrida sketches and then the famous Picasso version of “Le Moulin de la Galette”, painted in 1900 (now at Guggenheim NY).
By the end of 1901, Berthe opened, on her own, “Galerie B. Weill”. During 1902, she exhibited Picasso’s works twice. Here we see the ad for the second exhibition, made together with three other painters, including Ramon Pichot, who was Picasso’s close (Spanish) friend. This was the beginning of Picasso’s blue period.
As a parenthesis: Picasso’s blue period may have commenced with the portrait of another of his close friends, Casagemas, who committed suicide because of unreciprocated love for Germaine, who later married Ramon Pichot. The couple obviously settled down and worked at “La Maison Rose”, often painted, e.g. by Utrillo. Picasso portrayed both Germaine and Ramon and when Ramon died – too early, Picasso often helped Germaine economically.
Picasso was not the only one who got a start thanks to Berthe - she was also the first to sell Matisse. Here is a list of some of the well-known artists who she exhibited and promoted. We can see that many were young – and unknown – when they were first exhibited. Some of them left her for other art dealers, when they started to have a market value. However, others were “faithful” even then and, especially, as Berthe never managed to make a good living from her profession, came - by friendship - back to her with part of their production later, during the 1920’s and 30’s.
It is also remarkable that Berthe was the only one to offer a solo exhibition to Modigliani during his lifetime, in 1917. However, it met some difficulties – police intervened due to the nudity.
Berthe was also doing a lot for female artists. Here we can see some of them. Especially Emilie Charmy became a good personal friend. Hermine David got married later to the painter Jules Pascin and Valentine Pratz to Zadkine.
This is what Berthe looked like, portrayed by a number of artists and especially (the large one) in 1920 by Picasso.
She published her memoires to celebrate 30 years of activity. “Pan… dans l’oeil” was illustrated by Picasso, Dufy and Pascin.
Here are some photos of the addresses where she had her galleries. The first one, where she remained until 1917 was at 25 rue Victor Massé. A plaque is there now.
The second one was at 50 rue Taitbout, which she left in 1920.
The next one, until 1927, was at 46 rue Lafitte.
Finally, she moved to 27 rue Saint-Dominique, where she was expelled for unpaid rents in 1939. There is a plaque, but only to indicate that Chateaubriand has lived there. She obviously lived here in a flat under very modest circumstances during the WWII years and managed somehow not to be deported despite her Jewish origins and thanks to her own bravery.
In 1946, some 80 paintings and sculptures, offered by her artist friends were auctioned. This helped her to survive fairly well in a home for elderly people until her death in 1951, almost blind. She was in 1948 offered the “Légion d’Honneur”.