top of page

Ambroise Vollard

AMBROISE VOLLARD (1866 - 1939)


Intuitive and daring character, Ambroise Vollard is a mythical figure among the art dealers of his time. However, nothing seemed to predestine this young Reunionese passionate about art and literature to welcome, in his tiny Parisian gallery, the greatest works of art of his time. His flair enabled him to maintain privileged relations, sometimes friendly, sometimes stormy with Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin and even Renoir. With them and many others, "Fabulous Ambroise", as the New Yorker aptly called him in 1936, he built a pictorial empire that has since become legendary. MyStudiolo retraces the life of this fine strategist with an undeniable flair to identify artists still unknown in:

6 key dates 4 artworks 3 anecdotes 1 quote

1890 Coming to Paris for his law studies, under pressure from his father, a lawyer, Ambroise was more attracted to the graphic arts. When his father cut him off, he was hired in a small Parisian gallery before opening his in his modest apartment. He sells drawings and prints bought on the banks of the Seine. It was by buying back from Manet's widow a set of drawings and oil sketches by the painter that he truly launched his activity.

1894 He opens his gallery in the unmissable rue Laffitte, located near Drouot Auction House. The exhibition of his acquisitions aroused rave reviews and above all, allowed him to meet Renoir and Degas. He begins to sell their works. By focusing on the avant-garde, he patiently established his stable, revealed the work of Van Gogh and exhibited, the following year, the works of Cézanne. This retrospective is a revelation for artists and collectors: it affirms its nonconformism and lays the foundations for its success.

1897 He is the first art dealer to establish contracts in good standing with artists, guaranteeing them the regular purchase of their studio. At the same time focusing on engraving, he was interested in the group of the Nabis, namely Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard and Ker-Xavier Roussel. At that time, no merchant had such an impact on artistic creation because, beyond his role of art dealer, he played a real role of patron, funding certain research by several young artists such as Derain or Rouault in order to stimulate their creativity.

1901 His gallery becomes a center of gravity of the Parisian avant-garde. The works of Picasso, then an unknown 19-year-old, are exhibited for the first time. Three years later, he gave Matisse his first personal exhibition. With its exclusive contracts and its massive purchases of works from artists, Ambroise is building a huge collection at very advantageous prices. This strategy inevitably earned him conflicts but made him a formidable art dealer and a true patron.

1914 The outbreak of the First World War forced him to close his gallery. After the end of the conflict, he preferred to receive his clients in his apartment at 28, rue de Grammont. He therefore devotes a lot of time to the publishing of artists' books, less profitable, but which constitute the real passion of his life. It sponsors the production of numerous literary works, illustrated by his artists. He has also organized the publication of several editions of original prints, including sets of prints.

1939 Ambroise dies suddenly in a car accident while preparing to make a museum of his collection. Not having taken care to make a will, his priceless collection of several thousand works is dispersed. Today, some of his paintings can be found in the world's greatest museums or in private collections.


Vincent Van Gogh, Armand Roulin, 1888

Paul Cézanne, The Three Bathers 1879- 1882

Pierre Bonnard, Ambroise Vollard and his cat 1904

Pablo Picasso, The Frugal Repast, 1904



  • Judged as a fine strategist and formidable trader, his commercial strategy earned him the nickname "Vol-Art" (Art-Stealer). His more than stormy relationship with Gauguin illustrates this well. In great financial difficulty, the artist then returned to Polynesia can only accept a more than modest contract with the art dealer. This agreement, reflecting Vollard's difficulty in finding buyers for his paintings, is very offensive for Gauguin.

  • Since his death, 140 treasures had been sleeping in a safe belonging to the Société Générale Bank, which no one knew existed. The bank did not decide to open it in 1979 and to put these works on sale in 1981 to recover the never paid custody costs. After a legal tangle of more than 15 years, the marvelous prints were put up for sale by Sotheby's in 2010. The painting "Trees in Collioure" by André Derain was sold for 16.3 million pounds (19.5 million euros) signing a record for the artist and a record for a fauvist painting at auctions.

  • The exact circumstances of his death remain mysterious, but his neck could have been shattered by a copper plate or a Maillol sculpture that fell from the rear parcel of the vehicle. A tragic irony would therefore want it to be a work that caused the death of Vollard, aged seventy-three.


" Have you heard how vast his legacy is? Finds are being made everywhere, valuable items are scattered around, none of them displayed or recorded, priceless things are being found under stacks of canvases."

The artist Jacques-Emile Blanche referring to the collection of Ambroise Vollard after his death

Discover the lots of the Vollard collection offered for sale by Sotheby's

Read Recollections of a Picture Dealer written by Ambroise Vollard

bottom of page