UNIVERSITY of GLASGOW

The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Gaston Bernheim-Jeune, 1870-1953

Nationality: Belgian/French
Date of Birth: 1870.12.22
Place of Birth: Brussels
Date of Death: 1953.10.31
Place of Death: Cap d'Antibes, France

Identity:

Gaston Bernheim-Jeune, a Parisian art dealer, was the son of the art dealer and publisher, Alexandre Bernheim-Jeune (1839-1915). His grandfather Joseph Bernheim was a colourman and artists’ supplier in Besançon. Gaston had an elder brother Joseph (‘Josse’) and a sister Gabrielle who married the painter Félix Vallotton in 1899.

Life:

Gaston Bernheim-Jeune's father moved to Paris in 1863 and set up a gallery there in 1865 on the Rue Laffitte, apparently on the advice of Gustave Courbet. He knew Eugène Delacroix and Camille Corot and had a particular interest in the work of the Barbizon school and in that of Théodule Ribot, whose work he exhibited in his gallery in 1887 and 1890. Part of the family’s business was established in Brussels as early as 1867 and the family seems to have moved there during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870/71.

After their return to Paris, the Bernheim-Jeune family became interested in the Impressionists and began buying works by Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir, sometimes making joint purchases with Paul Durand-Ruel. They also owned shares in the Galerie Georges Petit. They held an exhibition of the work of Vincent van Gogh in 1901 and of Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard in 1906.

Gaston, although initially a dealer with the family firm, later himself became an artist, painting under the name Gaston de Villers. Both Bonnard and Vuillard painted portraits of the family (see Vuillard's Messrs Josse and Gaston Bernheim-Jeune and their Sons Jean and Claude, 1905; and Bonnard's Bernheim-Jeune Brothers, 1921; both in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris).

In February 1899 Gaston wrote to JW: 'On the recommendation of Mr Theodore Duret, our friend, I take the liberty of informing you that we have at this moment a picture of yours. Thinking that it would be pleasant for you to see it, we will give ourselves the pleasure of submitting it to you; this will give us the very great pleasure of making your acquaintance' (#00294).

However, the family's connection with JW was not a happy one. When JW was hard up he sold some unfinished canvases, including The Girl in Red (YMSM 312) and Violet and Blue: The Red Feather (YMSM 503), to the Parisian dealer Hessle who apparently sold them to Bernheim, but later when one was sold by the London dealer McLean, JW tried to retrieve them. According to him they were stolen from his Paris studio. At this statement Bernheim threatened to sue JW for slander. Similar circumstance surround Alice Butt (1) (YMSM 437).

Bibliography:

Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; Whiteley, Linda, 'Bernheim-Jeune', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, http://www.groveart.com (accessed 19 July 2002).