Selection of 100 Sold Masterworks
Selection of 100 Sold Masterworks
Acquavella at 100: A History
In 1919, Nicholas M. Acquavella immigrates to the United States from Naples, Italy, and begins a private trade in Italian paintings in New York City. Opening his first gallery at 598 Madison Avenue, on the corner of Fifty-Seventh Street and Madison Avenue, he specializes in dealing with Italian Renaissance and Baroque paintings. Though the gallery will remain in this neighborhood of Manhattan for the next four decades, it changes locations several times.
Then known as N. M. Acquavella Galleries, the gallery earns a reputation as a leading dealer in Old Master paintings, introducing many important American museums and collectors to the masters of Italian Renaissance and Baroque painting.
Numerous Old Master paintings sold by the gallery can today be found in prominent institutional collections, including masterworks by Artemisia Gentileschi, Guido Reni, and Zanobi Strozzi at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; two paintings by Corrado Giaquinto at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; and a sculpture attributed to Donatello at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The monumental painting by Gentileschi, Esther before Ahaseurus, is one of only a half dozen paintings by the Renaissance master that today can be found in American museum collections.
In 1947, while located at 38 East Fifty-Seventh Street, the gallery presents an exhibition of work by Giorgio de Chirico, the first exhibition at the gallery to focus on an artist from the nineteenth or twentieth century. Thirty paintings and two sculptures are on view. Other exhibitions in the 1930s and 1940s include Renaissance Portraits and numerous Old Master shows dedicated to Italian painters from the Quattracento through the seventeenth century. These exhibitions feature paintings by artists such as Bronzino, Canaletto, Guardi, Ferrari, Parmigianino, and Pontormo.
In the 1950s, the gallery moves to a new space, occupying the second floor of 119 East Fifty-Seventh Street. The distinctive, sixteenth-century styled building—designed with an elaborate, neo-Tudor façade, complete with old English tiles and an antique weathervane—was demolished in 1973.
In 1960, after graduating from Washington and Lee University and serving a stint in the army, Bill Acquavella joins his father in the gallery business. Noticing that the trade in Old Master paintings was slow, Bill develops an interest in dealing in Impressionist and modern paintings, which is encouraged by his father.
His first notable success in this market comes in 1965, when he reaches an agreement with the nieces of Pierre Bonnard. Buying seventeen paintings and taking thirteen on consignment, Bill and his father mount a show of the French master’s work. The gallery prints color catalogues, an uncommon practice for the time, and mails copies of the book to prominent collectors—Paul Mellon, Nelson Rockefeller, DeWitt Wallace, Norton Simon, and Douglas Dillon among them—though these collectors were not yet clients of the gallery. The gallery sells seventeen of these paintings by mail and begins relationships with some of the major collectors of the era. Today, several of the Bonnards from this 1965 exhibition can be found at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, among other private and public collections.
The following year, in 1966, the gallery presents the paintings of the nineteenth-century French floral painter Henri Fantin-Latour, who was little known in the United States at the time. The show was a resounding success, as were the exhibition catalogues, which were popular with florists who used Fantin’s paintings for inspiration in their arrangements.
Alongside the major exhibitions of nineteenth and twentieth-century masters at their space on East Fifty-Seventh Street, the gallery begins to show contemporary European painters whose work is inspired by Impressionism—including Dimitrie Berea, Paul Maze, and André Dunoyer de Segonzac.
With the success from the Bonnard and Fantin-Latour shows, the gallery acquires the French neo-classical townhouse at 18 East 79th Street in 1967, where the gallery is based today. Acquavella purchases the building from the collector and businessman, Norton Simon, in a deal involving two paintings as partial payment, including Fantin-Latour’s White and Pink Mallows in a Vase, which today is on view at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. Simon himself had acquired the townhouse only two years prior, in 1965, when he had purchased the building from Duveen Brothers. The final outpost of the legendary London art firm, which had sold so many of the Old Masters, European furniture, and objets d’art to the American titans of industry of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Duveen finally closed its doors with Simon’s purchase of the inventory, expansive library, and elegant townhouse.
To inaugurate the new townhouse, Acquavella presents a major loan exhibition, Four Masters of Impressionism, in 1968, exhibiting seventy paintings by Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley for the benefit of the Lenox Hill Hospital. The art historian François Daulte writes the catalogue introduction.
Now established in its stately galleries on East 79th Street, the gallery continues its tradition of mounting major loan exhibitions by the masters of Impressionism and modern art, presenting these exhibitions nearly each year, with the proceeds from admissions going to benefit nearby New York hospitals. The gallery presents Amedeo Modigliani in 1971, Joan Miró in 1972, Henri Matisse in 1973, Yves Tanguy in 1974, Pablo Picasso in 1975, Pierre Bonnard in 1977, and Edgar Degas in 1978. Renowned art historians and critics, from John Ashbery and Clement Greenberg to Douglas Cooper, Sir Roland Penrose, Theodore Reff, and Robert Rosenblum, contribute to the accompanying publications.
The gallery’s focus expands to include the wider scope of European modern art, regularly exhibiting and dealing in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism through Cubism and Surrealism.
In 1973, Acquavella buys seventeen Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works from the collection of Henry Ittleson, including works by Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, among others. From this collection, Degas’ iconic bronze Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, and Monet’s Camille on a Garden Bench can today be found in museum permanent collections.
In 1979, the gallery presents XIX & XX Century Master Paintings, beginning a tradition of for-sale exhibitions of masterworks that the gallery continues today.
In the early 1980s, Acquavella begins working with the Kimbell Art Foundation in Fort Worth, Texas, helping them acquire masterworks for their permanent collection. Over the course of the next fifteen years, the museum acquires over a dozen works through the gallery—including a Cubist portrait by Georges Braque, a Provençal landscape by Paul Cézanne, a self-portrait by Paul Gauguin, a large late painting by Henri Matisse, three works by Joan Miró (a monumental bronze sculpture, a 1918 portrait, and one of the artist’s Constellations), two abstract paintings by Piet Mondrian, and a late Giverny picture by Claude Monet. The Kimbell also purchases several Old Master paintings through the gallery. Though the gallery has become best known for dealing in masterpieces of Impressionist and modern art by this time, Acquavella also continues to deal in the Old Master market.
Acquavella also works with other major American and European museums at this time, including The Clark Art Institute, which acquires Paul Gauguin’s painting, Young Christian Girl (1894) in 1986, and The J. Paul Getty Museum, which acquires Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s The Model Resting (1889) in 1984. Over the next two decades, the Getty will continue to purchase work for its collection through Acquavella Galleries, and their later acquisitions include a painting of the Rouen Cathedral by Claude Monet, a striking portrait by Édouard Manet, and a painting from Edgar Degas’ series on the milliners.
The gallery also begins relationships with many Japanese museums—nearly twenty public institutions over the years—helping them to acquire masterworks of Impressionist and modern art. Today, the gallery still works with many of these institutions to acquire works for their permanent collections. Highlights of the gallery’s sales to Japanese museums include: Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Bottle (c. 1890, Pola Museum of Art); Paul Gauguin’s Girl Herding Pigs (1889, Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art); Alberto Giacometti’s Le nez (1947, National Museum of Art, Osaka); Claude Monet’s La Seine à Rouen, 1872, Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art; Pablo Picasso’s Landscape with Posters (1912, National Museum of Art, Osaka); and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Woman in Red Dress (c. 1892, Tokyo Fuji Art Museum).
Acquavella begins representing the British sculptor Anthony Caro, together with André Emmerich Gallery. Over the course of the decade, Acquavella will host three shows of the sculptor’s work. The gallery continues its tradition of hosting for-sale exhibitions of Impressionist and modern masterworks, usually at the pace of twice a year.
In 1985, Acquavella mounts a loan exhibition on the work of Lyonel Feininger, coordinated in association with The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., where the show travels. The following year, Acquavella exhibits a selection of drawings by Robert Rauschenberg, signaling the gallery’s continued work with contemporary artists and the growth of its focus to include the masters of postwar American painting and sculpture.
In 1987, Acquavella hosts an exhibition of important paintings by Fernand Léger, including fifty works by the artist which are on loan to the show. The celebrated art historian Jack Flam writes the essay for the accompanying catalogue.
Nicholas M. Acquavella dies in 1987, at 88 years old.
In 1990, the gallery partners with Sotheby’s to form Acquavella Modern Art in order to purchase the entire stock of the Pierre Matisse Gallery. Pierre Matisse, the son of the French painter Henri Matisse, ran his well-regarded gallery on East Fifty-Seventh Street for fifty-seven years, which was known for introducing the masters of modern and postwar European art to an American audience. Including some 2,300 works by artists such as Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet, Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miró, and Jean-Paul Riopelle, the acquisition of the Matisse gallery’s inventory sets a record for the art world at the time, both in terms of value and the sheer number of works.
In 1994, Acquavella hosts a major exhibition of paintings and sculpture by Alberto Giacometti on loan from museums and private collections.
In the mid-1990s, Acquavella takes on representation of the British painter Lucian Freud, hosting its first show of Freud’s paintings in 1996. From its first exhibition, the gallery sells the monumental portrait of Leigh Bowery, Naked Man, Back View (1991-92) to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The gallery exhibits new paintings by Freud again in 2000, 2004, and 2007. After the artist’s passing in 2011, Acquavella continues to deal in and exhibit Freud’s work, dedicating a show to the artist’s drawings in 2012, organized in collaboration with Blain / Southern Gallery in London, and a loan exhibition of Freud’s monumental nude paintings in 2019, curated by the artist’s longtime assistant David Dawson. During the gallery’s two decades of representing Freud, it places works by the artist in several museum collections, including Nude with Leg Up (Leigh Bowery) (1992, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.); and After Cézanne (2000, National Gallery of Australia); among others. In 2008, Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping sets the auction record for for a work of art by a living artist in 2008, a title he holds until after his death.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the third generation of the Acquavella family begins working at the gallery. Eleanor Acquavella begins working alongside her father in 1997, and her brothers Nicholas and Alexander join in 2000 and 2003, respectively.
In the fall of 1999, Acquavella presents the loan exhibition Cézanne Watercolors. The art historian and curator William Rubin contributes an essay to the accompanying exhibition catalogue.
The gallery begins representing the American Pop painter James Rosenquist, holding its first exhibition dedicated to the artist, James Rosenquist: Monochromes, in 2005. Over the next seven years, the gallery mounts four additional shows on Rosenquist: Time Blades (2007), The Hole in the Middle of the Clock and The Hole in the Wallpaper (2010), Multiverse You Are, I Am (2012), and the loan exhibition of early paintings, His American Life (2018). The gallery places work by the artist in important public collections, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
In 2003, the gallery takes on representation of the American painter Damian Loeb, exhibiting the artist’s paintings in Synesthesia, Parataxic Distortion and The Shadow (2008), Verschränkung and The Uncertainty Principle (2011), Sol-D (2014), Sgr A* (2017), and All Hope is Lost (2019).
The gallery continues to mount major loan exhibitions over the course of the decade, including 20th Century Sculpture (2003), Manolo Millares (2006), Fausto Melotti (curated by Elena Geuna in 2008), and Picasso’s Marie-Thérèse (2008), in addition to for-sale exhibitions.
In 2008, Acquavella hires the celebrated architect Annabelle Selldorf to undertake a renovation of its galleries, maintaining many of the building’s historical details while also updating and expanding its first-floor galleries.
The gallery mounts a series of major loan exhibitions throughout the decade, starting with Robert & Ethel Scull: Portrait of a Collection, curated by Judith Goldman, in 2010. Known as “the Mom and Pop of Pop,” the Sculls were pioneering collectors of contemporary art in the 1960s, acquiring masterworks by James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns, among others, very early on in their careers. The show includes forty-four works by twenty-three artists, borrowing several works from important museum collections.
In 2011, Acquavella presents the retrospective Georges Braque: Pioneer of Modernism, curated by Dieter Buchhart. With over forty major paintings and papiers collés on view, the exhibition marks the first major Braque exhibition in New York in over twenty years.
The American art historian and curator John Wilmerding curates The Pop Object: The Still Life Tradition in Pop Art at the gallery in 2013, and Fred Hoffman curates Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawing: Work from the Schorr Collection in 2014, presenting over twenty works by Basquiat on loan from the collection of Herbert and Lenore Schorr.
In 2016, the gallery presents the exhibition Jean Dubuffet: Anticultural Positions curated by Mark Rosenthal, focusing on Dubuffet’s experimental work from 1943 to 1959, a period the gallery has specialized in since acquiring the Pierre Matisse estate in 1990.
Working in collaboration with Pace Gallery, in 2017 Acquavella exhibits Calder / Miró: Constellations. Acquavella reunites twenty-two of Miró’s celebrated gouache Constellations while Pace exhibits Calder’s kinetic sculptures from his Constellations series; both of the series were made while the friends were on opposite sides of the Atlantic during the tumultuous years of World War II.
In 2018, the gallery shows the retrospective The Worlds of Torres-García, exhibiting over sixty works from the private collection of the family of the Latin American modernist. The accompanying catalogues for these loan exhibitions receive additional worldwide distribution through Rizzoli International Publications.
In 2011, Acquavella begins representing the American painter Wayne Thiebaud. Its first exhibition on the artist, a retrospective curated by the art historian John Wilmerding, is presented in the fall of 2012, followed by a second survey show in 2014. In 2018, the gallery presents the loan exhibition California Landscapes: Richard Diebenkorn / Wayne Thiebaud, the first show to present the landscapes of these leading postwar California painters, who were also close friends, side-by-side. In 2019, Acquavella exhibits Wayne Thiebaud: Mountains 1965-2019, and inaugurates its new Palm Beach location with a single artist show of Thiebaud’s work in 2020-21.
During this decade, Acquavella also takes on representation of other living artists. In 2013, Acquavella presents its first exhibition of the work of Spanish painter and sculptor Miquel Barceló, exhibiting his work again in the fall of 2016. In 2015, the gallery begins representing Jacob El Hanani, presenting solo shows on the artist’s elaborate drawings in 2015 and 2017.
Alongside its work in the fields of Impressionist, modern, and postwar art, the gallery continues to expand its dealings in contemporary art. Vito Schnabel curates a group show of contemporary art at the gallery in 2013 titled White Collar Crimes. The gallery shows new paintings by Chinese painters Zeng Fanzhi and Wang Yan Cheng in 2009 and 2019.
In 2018, the gallery launches its podcast, “The Picture: Conversations with Acquavella Galleries.” Gallery director Philippe de Montebello leads conversations with preeminent artists, curators, and art historians for the series.
In February, Acquavella partners with Pace Gallery and Gagosian Gallery to sell the estate of Donald Marron, handling the sale of some 300 modern, postwar, and contemporary works privately, including paintings such as Pablo Picasso’s Woman with Beret and Collar (1937), and Mark Rothko’s Number 22 (reds) (1957). This unprecedented partnership signals a new way for families to handle the sales of their collections and presents an alternative to the auction houses.
In January 2020, Acquavella mounts an immersive exhibition of bronze sculptures by Miró, Joan Miró: Elements of Nature.
The gallery takes on co-representation of the American artist Tom Sachs, hosting its first exhibition in the fall of 2020, Tom Sachs: Handmade Paintings. The catalogue includes contributions by critic David Rimanelli and the writer Naomi Fry. In February–March 2021, Acquavella exhibits new paintings and sculpture by Sachs in its Palm Beach gallery.
From May 5–June 18, 2021, the gallery presents two exhibitions: the loan show, Eva Hesse / Hannah Wilke: Erotic Abstraction, curated by Eleanor Nairne of the Barbican Art Gallery, and Jacob El Hanani: Recent Works on Canvas.