Sunday, February 14, 2021

In Memoriam: Richard L. Feigen (1930-2021)

Though Richard L. Feigen led a long and fruitful life I was sad to learn that on January 29, 2021 he succumbed to Covid-19.

As long-time colleagues in the art world, Dick and I were both members of The Art Dealers’ Association of America.  He was greatly respected by all.  His mere presence elevated the group.   Though professionally he was hard driving and a tough negotiator, I found that he treated everyone equally and never had a superior air.  I remember at one of our Art Dealer Association meetings someone saying, probably in the early 1970’s, “I wonder if we could get the young trump to start collecting art” and Dick piping up and saying, “I tried to get him to buy some important painting coming up at auction.  I told him this could really put him on the map in the art world and be good PR, but he was not interested.  He will never be a collector.”  Here he is early in his career.

Dick enjoyed entertaining at his home where we were included in the annual Chinese dinner he held for those who had convened for the Old Master auction week in New York. The walls were hung with his fabulous private collection. A great quote of his is, “I am a collector in dealer’s clothes” which he wrote in his book, “Tales from the Art Crypt”.  He also wrote, “Masterpieces are increasingly unavailable, but I never encountered one that was overpriced, only ones I could not afford”.  Sometimes, reluctantly, he had to sell at auction, for liquidity, to take advantage of opportunities in the market, or more recently for estate planning as with his 2019 consignment of a group of paintings to Christie’s. Here he is at home hanging some of his art.

Armed with a Harvard MBA he bought a seat on tha New York stock exchange but left Wall Street to open his first art gallery in 1957 in Chicago focusing on Surrealism and German Expressionism, most especially the work of Max Beckman. In 1962 he opened a second gallery in New York selling not only Modern Masters but cutting edge artists such as Francis Bacon, Joseph Cornell and Claes Oldenburg.  He explained, “I think I was interested in the future potential of things”.  My point being is that at the time these works would have been considered, Modern, and in today’s parlance, Contemporary. Though he never abandoned them he became increasing involved in Old Master paintings, whether they were for himself or resale.  Here is an image by George Grosz (1893-1959) “Lovesick Man”  of 1916 sold to the Museum in Dusseldorf, Germany.

As a dealer his approach was more high powered than the older generation in the profession like  Klaus Perls, who had a gallery in the same Upper East Side neighborhood and used to say, “I never sold a painting, but once in a while I allowed someone to buy something.” Though I believe Richard would have subscribed to that philosophy his drive and financial background aligned him with a clientele of modern moguls.  In his Italian collection is a wonderful photo of Danae by Orazio Gentilesch (1563-1639) which ended up in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Richard Feigen’s legacy lies not just in the paintings he donated to his alma mater Yale and to the Metropolitan Museum, but in his role as a dealer, esteemed for his acumen and his “eye”, who enhanced many important private collections and museums around the world for half a century.

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