Living with Modern Art: The Henry and Rose Pearlman Collection

On 10 November 2020, by Tatsiana Zhurauliova

On long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum, the Henry and Rose Pearlman Collection encapsulates the enduring legacy of a collector fascinated with the experience of art.

Henry Pearlman in His Office at Eastern Cold Storage, New York, N.Y., 
Courtesy of The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation.

According to his recollections, Henry Pearlman became an art collector when he first saw Chaïm Soutine’s painting View of Ceret (c.1921-22) in the windows of the American Art Association–Anderson Galleries in New York (later Parke-Bernet). He purchased the painting in 1945, thus starting what would become one of the finest private collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in the United States. At the time Pearlman already owned a number of early Italian, French, and American genre paintings, but none of them elicited the same passionate response as the Soutine. The canvas, he stated, set him “on a road of adventure both exhilarating and satisfying.” Over the years, he collected over seventy masterpieces of modern art, including works by Paul Cézanne, Honoré Daumier, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Amedeo Modigliani, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Vincent van Gogh. In 1955, the Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation was established with the goal of preserving the collection and broadening its public reach. Since 1976, the Pearlman art collection has been housed at the Princeton University Art Museum on a long-term loan.

The Early Years
Born in 1895 to immigrant parents, Pearlman founded his company Eastern Cold Storage in 1919, at the age of only twenty-four. A self-made businessman, he used his financial success to start collecting art. He shared this passion with his wife, Rose, whom he married in 1925. The Pearlmans started their collection in the mid-1940s, during a period of unprecedented economic growth in the United States and a corresponding expansion of the U.S. art market. During and after WWII, a new generation of influential dealers and gallerists emerged in New York and other major U.S. cities. They often focused on contemporary art, including the budding Abstract Expressionism movement, but they also helped to cultivate a taste for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art among American collectors. London-based Sotheby’s opened a New York office in 1955 and in 1964 it acquired Parke-Bernet, then the largest fine art auction house in the U.S. The increased demand and the growing number of wealthy collectors drove prices up, making it difficult for Pearlman to compete with such high rollers as Paul Mellon. Consequently, instead of relying on auction houses, Pearlman preferred to acquire works through personal connections, cultivating a network of friendships and acquaintances that included dealers, artists, and other collectors across the world.
 

Henry Pearlman’ Office, Eastern Cold Storage, New York, N.Y.Courtesy of The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation.

Henry Pearlman’s Office, Eastern Cold Storage, New York, N.Y.
Courtesy of The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation.

The Experience of Art
This approach to collecting aligned closely with Pearlman’s broad fascination with the experience of art—not only the motivation and artistic journey of the artist, but also the life of a painting or a sculpture including its reception by the public and appreciation by the previous owners. Pearlman was also interested in artistic influence and lineages, often collecting works that were owned by artists and writers he admired, as well as by prominent dealers and collectors. Thus, he was absolutely delighted to find that a small painting that he had recently purchased, Head of an Old Woman by Daumier, was mentioned by Leo Stein in his book Appreciation as a part of his and Gertrude Stein’s collection. Following this discovery, Pearlman went through numerous photographs of Stein’s floor-to-ceiling installations in her apartment to find the Daumier in question. The art historian Rachael Z. DeLue has noted that in considering Pearlman’s collecting practice it is useful to keep in mind the idea of identification, identification with artists and others who came in contact with the works overtime, but also with places. He searched for the original sites or locations depicted in the works in his collection, clearly interested in the actual, material character of the places represented in them. Once a site was identified, he requested photographs of the terrain or visited it himself. He traveled to the south of France a number of times to experience for himself the places that were painted by Soutine and Cézanne.
 

Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943), View of Céret, c. 1921-22, oil on canvas, 74 x 85.7 cm (29 1/8 x 33 3/4 in.)Courtesy of The Henry and Rose Pear

Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943), View of Céret, c. 1921-22, oil on canvas, 74 x 85.7 cm (29 1/8 x 33 3/4 in.)
Courtesy of The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum.

A Commitment to Representational Art
This fascination with the actual sites of artistic creation corresponds to the Pearlman’s sustained commitment to representational art and his resistance to the growing popularity of abstraction among other collectors at the time. Pearlman also avoided Cubism, especially Picasso, and even though he sometimes bought works by artists associated with the movement, he quickly sold or exchanged them. He was a self-proclaimed “worshipper of Cézanne,” actively acquiring the master’s works in different media. The Pearlman collection includes sixteen watercolors by Cézanne, representing the largest grouping of the artist’s works in that medium outside of France. 
Yet ultimately, for Pearlman, collecting art was inseparable from his own enjoyment of it. He was always surrounded by his collection, both at home and in his office. According to Daniel Edelman, the President of the Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation and Henry’s grandson, Pearlman spent hours and years in the company of a single work, absorbing it over time, perceiving changes as if it were alive, perhaps coming to know the work as intimately as the artist had.”
 

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), Tarascon Stagecoach (La Diligence de Tarascon), 1888, oil on canvas, 71.4 x 92.5 cm (28 1/8 x 36 7/16 in).Co
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), Tarascon Stagecoach (La Diligence de Tarascon), 1888, oil on canvas, 71.4 x 92.5 cm (28 1/8 x 36 7/16 in).
Courtesy of The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum

The Pearlman Collection in France
Soutine’s View of Ceret, which started Henry Pearlman on his journey of collecting, is coming to Paris for the Soutine-De Kooning exhibition, scheduled to go on view at the Musée de l’Orangerie from 15 September 2021 to 10 January 2022. The Pearlman Foundation will loan two additional paintings by Soutine for the exhibition: Steeple of Saint-Pierre at Céret (c. 1922), and Self-Portrait (c. 1918). This is far from the first time that works from the collection will travel to France. Recently, loans from the Foundation were featured in the “Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec” exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, “Sainte(s)-Victoire(s)” at the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence in 2019, and “Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist”, hung at the Grand Palais in 2018. In 2014-2015, the Princeton University Art Museum in cooperation with the Pearlman Foundation organized “Cézanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art from the Pearlman Collection, which traveled to the Musée Granet, as well as to the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford, in England, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, U.S., and the Vancouver Art Gallery in Canada. The exhibition marked the first world tour of the entire collection since Henry Pearlman’s death in 1974, introducing a broad international audience to his enduring legacy as a collector.

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