Written in first person as anecdotes on his debut in the profession, the legendary art dealer’s memoirs conjure up the atmosphere of the now bygone world of Paris in the late 19th century, when the painters rejected by the Salon were gradually coming to the fore and the young Ambroise Vollard was taking his first steps. Having arrived in the capital to study law, he dropped out and began to haunt bookshops and markets, where he unearthed cheap prints and drawings that were to be his initial stock in trade. A ruthless businessman, he also had a priceless sense of which way the wind was blowing. He visited Manet’s widow and returned to home with an entire collection of the master’s drawings. He made friends with Renoir, Degas and above all Pissarro, who followed his advice. He looted the studios of Cézanne, Vlaminck, Derain and Picasso, and took a bold stance in the avant-garde market by exhibiting works by Van Gogh and Gauguin.
His daring diversification, from painting to prints and books, also had an effect on the artists around him. Combining his longstanding passions for literature and graphic art, he became the publisher of deluxe art books illustrated by painters and exhibited together with paintings in the same shop on Rue Laffitte. The time was right for anyone with a gallery on the “street of paintings” and focal point for art dealers and collectors, where it was easy to run into artists like Matisse, Renoir, Degas, Redon, Apollinaire and Jarry. It was during unforgettable dinners often graced with such guests that Vollard used his keen ear to pick up every comment and capture the greatest artists of the age with extraordinary verve in vividly living dialogues and slices of life. While these are the true protagonists of his memoirs, those capable of reading between the lines will also form a precise image of Vollard himself, the picture dealer par excellence and unquestionably the most immortalized, as shown by the innumerable portraits executed by the painters of his entourage, some of which are reproduced in the book.