Henri Marie Petiet
Art and the Dealer
Christine Oddo is the author of the new book that looks at the life of her Uncle Henri Petiet. An art dealer and collector of some of the most famous artists of his time and whose works now demand millions. Most of these artists at some point lived and worked on the French Riviera. Artists connections to the South of France are endless. The Primary reasons most artists choose to live close to the Mediterranean is the light, climate and landscape.
When Petiet purchased the famous “Suite Vollard” by Picasso this extraordinary ensemble of a series of 100 plates, 31 000 prints in total, very few of them were signed. This started the “signing ceremony” for Petiet. In 1950, the artist agreed to sign a set but at a certain condition and for a certain price being100 francs a piece. At that time Picasso was living in Vallauris with Françoise Gillot and their two children. So Petiet hurried down there with his portfolio of prints and waited hours until Picasso decided to sign.
From 1955 to 1961 Picasso lived in Cannes, at Villa California so Petiet followed him to have the prints signed. At that time, Picasso had a new partner, Jacqueline Roque. This Cannes location was ideal for Henri Petiet because he spends his time in the comfort of his brother, Robert Petiet ‘s summer house, l’Hermitage, in Cannes.
From 1961 until his death, Picasso lived in Notre Dame-de-Vie in Mougins. Petiet followed him there too to have his prints of the Vollard Suite signed.
The book is a beautiful insight, not only of Petiet’s life (1894- 1980) but also a clear view of the state of mind the world was in. Life was defiantly slower with so many obstructions such as war, health issues and communication, however, the art world survived and Petiet was a major player in preserving many rare and important art collections. The publication is also sprinkled with inspiring images (85), to delight the eye. Paintings by Odilon Redon, ‘Arbre sur un fond jaune’ 1901 and prints by Mary Cassatt, Mothers Kiss ‘le Baiser’ 1890 -91 and many more.
The book ” Art and the dealer Henri M Petiet ” in the English version is available on Amazon.fr and on www.leslibraires.fr
Have you always been writing?
I wouldn’t say always, no. I started working in the publishing industry at the beginning of the 80s. I had the position of director of a collection. I have also worked as a ghostwriter and have written books under a pen-name. My first biography “La Princesse Jeanne Bibesco, une femme, le carmel, la République” was published in the fall of 2007. Jeanne Bibesco was an amazing character. She was the Reverend Mother of the Monastery in Alger. When the monastery was closed, she went back to France and took up lecturing. Just before World War II at quite an advanced age she worked for the Ministry of War deciphering secret messages from the Germans. A nun who became a spy was an irresistible topic for me. The research I did for the biography was a wonderful experience as I had access to the archives of both the Archdiocese of Alger and the Vatican archives.
What inspired you to write a book about your great-uncle? Did you ever meet him?
In our family, Henri was an impressive figure: very tall, good-looking and always treated with respect. Family gatherings were a time for those of us of the younger generation to listen to his juicy anecdotes about all the famous artists he knew as well as the shocking stories he would tell us. His unconventionally and audaciousness, his life in the world of Art moving between France, the UK and the USA, his willingness to take risks, this was all irresistible to me as the young girl that I was at the time.
Writing his biography was a way to pay tribute to him, but I also hoped I would discover who the real Henri was behind the art dealer and great-uncle.
Did the book bring you any surprises?
The research confirmed the key role of Henri Petiet in enhancing the place of the print in American and English museums (Art Institute of Chicago, Boston, Brooklyn, Baltimore, British museum…) or private collections. Many departments of prints and drawings had expanded thanks to their purchases made through Petiet.
I discovered a man of passion: a passion for art dealing, but also for his collections of illustrated books, of antique cars and miniature trains. He did everything with passion and energy.
My greatest discovery was Petiet ‘s interest for astrology. Every year he had his astrologer chart his horoscope. I found this particularly amusing since one of my weekly pleasures is to read my horoscope in magazines.
How long did it take you? Did you have a deadline to work to or was it more relaxed?
It took me 6 years. When I started my research before having a publisher I was going directly to archives of various French, American and English museums. As soon as the manuscript was completed and checked by curators and art historians I started my search for a publisher. I was very pleased that les Editions des Cendres agreed to publish it. They did a great job producing an elegant volume with 85 fine quality reproductions.
Did you inherit any of his collections?
If you are speaking of engravings, I want to make it clear that a family trust was set up after Henri ‘s death. One of my uncles was in charge of dealing with the art collection. It was decided to put all of Petiet’s collections up for auction. Each member of this “indivision ” as it is called in France was given the opportunity to purchase any of the works at auction.
But the legacy is not only material. Henri gave me his curiosity. One of his mottos was “If you stay curious you will stay young forever.” He gave also another lesson. If you are decided to start a job, always do your best and take risks.
Which is your favourite artist/drawing of his collection?
Your question is difficult to answer. As Henri bought the engravings of leading artists from Picasso to Matisse, from Bonnard to Gauguin, from Toulouse-Lautrec to Foujita, It is impossible to choose. I would say that I am attracted by the Redons especially what is called “Les Noirs”. Gauguin’s work is amazing. Henri published a study on Gauguin. Picasso of course, a genius in Henri’s words. The “ Vollard Suite” is impressive. I would add Mary Cassatt, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, Vuillard…
If he were alive today, what do you think he would think about the art world?
Henri Petiet belonged to a generation which does not exist anymore. I think he might say “too much money, too little culture.”
What project are you working on now?
I have just started research on a woman who was a fashion designer. I am looking into the archives to make sure the project is viable.
For more information
Julian Roup: firstname.lastname@example.org
or to purchase the book:
Inspiring international lifestyles based on the French Riviera