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January 5: Picasso’s Dealer

January 5, 2015

Heinz BerggruenHeinz Berggruen, a refugee from Nazism who became an art critic in the United States and returned to post-war Europe to become one of the most prominent art dealers and curators of the 20th century, was born in Berlin on this date (some sources say January 6th) in 1914. He fled Nazi Germany in 1936, studied art at the University of California at Berkeley, and worked as art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle before becoming a curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (and having a brief, torrid affair with Frida Kahlo). Following World War II, he worked in the Fine Arts division of UNESCO, and after opening a small bookstore in Paris he became friends with Pablo Picasso, who appointed him his art dealer. By 2001, six years before his death at 93, Berggruen’s collection was valued at 750 million euros and included some 130 works by Picasso. In 1988, he donated ninety works by Paul Klee to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1995, he donated much of his collection to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, as a gesture of reconciliation with Germany; many of the artists represented had been described by the Nazis as “degenerate.” The following year, Berggruen returned to Berlin after sixty years and opened an art museum in his own name.

“I am neither French nor German. I am European. I’d very much like to think there was a European nationality, but I think I may be dreaming.” —Heinz Berggruen