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While millionaire collectors such as New York’s Havemeyers and Moscow’s Shchukins waited for an audience, the dealer Ambroise Vollard would nap in his rue Lafitte basement after a gargantuan lunch, then wake to say that no, he had no Cézannes for sale – even though the master’s canvases were piled high behind him as he spoke.
He similarly manipulated the market for Van Gogh and Gauguin, while selling Renoirs to Picasso and Cézannes to Matisse. Every painting that passed through his hands played a role in the economics of modernism, which is the subject of the trophy exhibition Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde at Paris’s Musée d’Orsay in June.
“The most beautiful woman who ever lived,” Picasso boasted, “never had her portrait painted oftener than Vollard – by Cézanne, Renoir, Rouault, Bonnard . . . everybody, in fact. But my cubist portrait of him is the best of them all.”
They will all be there in this classic art-and-money, fame-and-rivalry show: my highlight for 2007.
Vollard’s death in a car crash in 1940 symbolised the end of Paris’s domination of world art. In Europe, the Germans dominated the postwar scene, and their figurative strength and seriousness throughout the late 20th century is still being revealed. The Royal Academy’s Georg Baselitz: A Retrospective (September), Guggenheim Bilbao’s Anselm Kiefer (March) and ROMA, a double focus on the cerebral Rosemarie Trockel and the underrated expressionist Markus Lupertz at London’s Albion (January) are all important contemporary shows. So is the National Gallery’s eagerly awaited display of London-born Russian Jewish Leon Kossoff (March), who shares something of the German school’s painterly dazzle and dense materiality.
Once a decade, Kassel’s dry Documenta and Venice’s gaudy Biennale, the world’s two most prominent contemporary artfests, gloriously overlap. 2007 is the year – both open in June – and Tracey Emin is appointed to fill the British Pavilion in the Giardini: an irresistible combination of bad-girl-turned-to-gravitas and old imperial setting.
Other provocateurs tamed into the mainstream are Gilbert and George at Tate Modern (February) and Jake and Dinos Chapman at Tate Liverpool (now) and Tate Britain (January). None beats the seven decades of raging inventiveness that make the 95-year-old Louise Bourgeois unique, effortlessly assimilating trends from surrealism to conceptualism without ever yielding her own steely/delicate vision; her retrospective is at Tate Modern (October).
Who are the descendants of these grown-up enfants terribles? Charles Saatchi thinks he knows: the opening of his new Chelsea gallery (summer) with an updated Triumph of Painting series will be a notable event, but in Wolverhampton the collector Frank Cohen may give him a run for his money with the launch of his new space Initial Access, opening with the show L.A. Beijing (March).
At the other extreme, the still contemplation and human scale of Dutch art are the focus of two landmark Old Master shows. The National Gallery’s Dutch Portraits: The Age of Rembrandt and Frans Hals (June) is an unprecedented survey of an unprecedented cultural era; Antwerp Fine Art Museum’s exhibition of Van Eyck, van der Weyden, Gossaert and others, Prayer and Portrait: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych (March), organised with Washington, is a scholarly and emotional triumph, reuniting halves of priceless, fragile diptychs that have been separated for centuries across nations or continents.
The Flemish primitive painters portrayed a sacred subject in one panel and their patron in the other. Thus we see the knot of artist, collector and transcendent motif as a shaping force of art, from the very start of the Renaissance to Vollard and Cézanne or Picasso. Will it be sustained by anything in Saatchi’s or Cohen’s collections or the international artfests of 2007? Who knows? That is the continuing thrill