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The Early Years

Born in 1851 in Fegersheim, near Strasbourg, Nathan Wildenstein decided to leave his native Alsace when the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870. Having settled near Paris, he was working in a tailor's shop when a client asked him to negotiate the sale of several paintings. Though he knew nothing about painting, Nathan accepted. Without further ado, he took himself to the Louvre, and spent ten days exploring it. "These celestial ten days" were a revelation for him, one that would determine his destiny. He successfully sold the paintings that had been confided to him, then bought a Boucher, a Quentin de La Tour: an art dealer was born. In Paris, he opened his first "shop" on the Rue Laffitte, afterwards moving to the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré in the 8th arrondissement, before settling definitively at 57, Rue La Boétie. His taste was for the 18th century masters like Watteau, Lancret, Nattier, Fragonard, and Houdon that collectors the world over would soon rediscover through him.


Art Publications

Nathan died in 1934. His son Georges (1892-1963) succeeded him. Erudite, with wide-ranging curiosity, he was drawn not only to the Impressionists, but also to contemporary painters like Picasso. As talented a dealer as he was an administrator, he was also an art critic fascinated by research: he organized exhibitions, published a first collection of catalogues raisonnés devoted to 18th century painters and sculptors and was director of the publications Beaux-Arts and Gazette des Beaux-Arts. Convinced that a business dealing in art must be based on rigorous knowledge, Georges Wildenstein assembled a collection of documents composed of publications, archival materials and photographs, and in so doing, set a decisive course for what would become in later years the Wildenstein Institute, for it is this body of documents that is at the origin of the library, founded in 1918.


Research

Upon Georges' death, Daniel Wildenstein (1917-2001) carried on the work that his father had started. Pursuing the policy of judicious acquisition of documentary materials, he enlarged the library, which he structured thematically. He made contributions to the published catalogues raisonnés and undertook the revision and re-edition of earlier publications, while simultaneously establishing new catalogues raisonnés, in particular one on Claude Monet which demanded over forty years of research. By organizing colloquia and exhibitions, and by his contributions to the enhancement of museums, Daniel Wildenstein substantially promoted the influence of French art. He provided support—scholarly, moral and financial—to researchers and art historians, encouraging (among other projects) the work undertaken by Robert Fernier on Gustave Courbet and that by Marie Berhaut on Gustave Caillebotte. In 1971, this enlightened and perspicacious art dealer was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts at the Institut de France.


A View of the Future

Following his example, his sons ensured that activities in the areas of documentation, research and publication would continue. Since the death of his brother Alec (1940-2008), author of the catalogue raisonné of Odilon Redon, Guy Wildenstein, seconded by the fifth generation, presides over the Wildenstein Institute and is committed to a policy of patronage of the arts. Author of the catalogue raisonné of Albert Marquet, he heads research teams and is the driving force behind the consultative committees engaged in the elaboration of critical catalogues, including the ambitious, large-scale project on Renoir. His on-going concern is to make the wealth of resources in the library—amassed over a century—accessible to historians, collectors and others active in the art market, in particular by employing new technologies to modernize that access.