Art: Genius Disguised As a Sloth

"Modern pictures, editions of books and modern prints"—the eight words above Ambroise Vollard's name on his business letterhead make up one of the inn signs of our century. Occasionally, there emerges from the scrum of picture salesmen a dealer with an almost mediumistic sense of the art of his time and place. Genius, of a sort, is needed to pick geniuses, and in the past 75 years fewer than a dozen art dealers, from Kahnweiler to Castelli, have had it. Vollard was their great prototype.

In his cluttered gallery on Rue Laffitte in Paris, stacked...

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