LONDON (Reuters Life!) - French art dealer Aime Maeght was not only a friend to some of the 20th century’s greatest artists.
He was also fixer, adviser, patron and publisher to the likes of Miro, Braque and Giacometti. When his Paris gallery, opened in 1945, it symbolized a new spirit in art following the dark days of World War Two and the German occupation.
A new show on Maeght and his family, at London’s Royal Academy, combines major works with personal artifacts to explore his journey from owner of a small shop selling radios in Cannes to an influential gallerist, collector and dealer.
The journey began in 1941 when painter Pierre Bonnard met Maeght and his wife Marguerite at the Arte store, also home to a print shop and advertising agency, and asked them to print a poster.
Marguerite persuaded Bonnard to let her have some paintings to sell, prompting the artist to encourage the couple to open a gallery in Paris shortly after the end of World War Two.
Henri Matisse spent time with the Maeght family during the war in the relative calm of southern France, and produced works for the opening show at the Galerie Maeght in 1945.
While Bonnard and Matisse were seen by Maeght as mentors, he also had a close friendship with Spanish Catalan artist Joan Miro, American Alexander Calder, Cubism co-founder Georges Braque and Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti.
“We decided to really concentrate on four of the great artists of the 20th century who are at the heart of the Maeght family story,” said curator Ann Dumas, flanked by Aime’s son and three grandchildren.
One of the main events at Galerie Maeght during its first few years was the International Surrealist Exhibition of 1947, which marked the movement’s return to Paris after the war and featured works by Miro.
In the show rooms stand some of Giacometti’s most famous sculptures, including the towering “Standing Woman I” and a much earlier masterpiece, “Spoon-woman,” made in the 1920s.
They also feature mobiles and sculptures by Calder, as well as important paintings by Miro and Braque and a wall dedicated to the covers of the “Derriere Le Miroir” art magazine published by the Maeghts between 1946 and 1982.
Chagall, Leger and Kandinsky appear on the covers, underlining the Maeghts’ prominence in the art world.
What makes the exhibition unique, said Dumas, was the combination of the major pieces and display cases containing personal artifacts related to the Maeght family and the artists, some of which have never been on show before.
They include film footage taken by Aime’s teenaged son showing Matisse drawing a portrait of Marguerite. The charcoal picture hangs just above the screen.
In another, Giacometti can be seen dancing and playing with one of the Maeght children in a sun-lit room.
Aime Maeght, who trained as a lithographer in his youth, encouraged his artists to work in different media, and the final room of the exhibition contains large scale lithographs created by Miro when he was an old man.
Editing by Paul Casciato