Marina Picasso, Paris.
Private Collection, Germany.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
The collection of Dr. Martin L. and Francey Gecht is the result of nearly four decades of deeply engaged connoisseurship. Encompassing an array of late-nineteenth and twentieth century engravings, lithographs, drawings, and sculptures, it is an assemblage whose breadth and depth embody the Gechts’ lifelong pursuit of beauty. “I get great joy out of my collection,” Martin Gecht noted, “and… a totally new appreciation each time I look at it.” Whether at home or in the public sphere, the couple wholeheartedly embraced fine art’s ability to illuminate the world.
DEVELOPING AN EYE
It seems only natural that the intensely curious Martin Gecht would build one of the United States’ premier collections of prints and works on paper—a grouping that traces the rise of modernism from the late-nineteenth century through the post-war period. Born in Chicago and raised in California, Dr. Gecht was a graduate of the University of Southern California and the Chicago Medical School. Trained as both a general practitioner and a dermatologist, he supplemented his medical career with successful ventures in real estate development and finance. In 1946, Dr. Gecht married Francey Heytow, a beloved partner in collecting, family, and philanthropy for over half a century.
Martin and Francey Gecht came to fine art somewhat by chance. During a visit to Japan in 1969, the couple were encouraged to bring back traditional woodblock prints in lieu of other souvenirs. The Gechts’ collection, wrote curator Mark Krisco, “started innocently,” when they purchased a number of these vintage prints from Kyoto’s Red Lantern Shop. The staff at the Red Lantern advised the couple to closely examine the editions on offer; the Gechts spent hours perusing choice works by esteemed Japanese artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai. Indeed, this ethos of absorbed, considered looking would become a hallmark of the Gechts’ collecting, as they steadily acquired masterworks by some of the greatest names of the recent art historical canon. The couple ultimately returned to the United States with a dozen Japanese prints, harbingers of an exceptional private collection.
A few years after this initial foray in collecting, Francey Gecht suggested the purchase of additional works—“some nice pictures,” in her words—for their family’s Illinois residence. As Dr. Gecht studied the creative output of European artists, he developed an affinity for pieces that shared an aesthetic with the couple’s Japanese prints. He was especially drawn to Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, as “so many of his images,” Dr. Gecht explained, “are right from the Japanese woodblocks.” Soon, he added, “one thing led to another, and I was a collector.” Dr. Gecht’s signature voracity for knowledge allowed him to draw connections between various genres, geographies, and schools. “He read, he went to art auctions, and he developed a good eye,” Francey Gecht recalled. Moreover, Dr. Gecht began to seriously acquire prints and works on paper by Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. “He just bought,” Mrs. Gecht later mused, “and bought and bought.”
“A GREATER DIMENSION”
For the Gechts, the purpose of fine art was to “give our lives a greater dimension.” To that end, they collaborated with respected Chicago gallerists—including Alice Adam and B.C. “Bud” Holland, among others—to assemble a sizable grouping of prints, drawings, and sculpture. Throughout the latter decades of the twentieth century, the Gechts’ collection expanded to include notable examples by artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Yves Klein, Otto Dix, Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, Philip Guston, and others. This sweeping range allowed individual works to stand in striking dialogue with one another, an outcome that brought the couple and their children never-ending joy. As former Art Institute of Chicago curator Suzanne Folds McCullagh wrote, the collection showcases the very evolution of modernism, “from late-nineteenth-century avant-garde styles in France to the twentieth-century European movements Fauvism, German Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism, and then to American Abstract Expressionism.”
CULTURE AND COMMUNITY
For Martin and Francey Gecht, fine art was a fully lived experience. The walls of their Chicago residence, Mark Krisco noted, were “solidly covered with works on paper,” leading the collectors to acquire small sculptures and other objects. It was a collection that, with each day, revealed new insights. The couple were forever aware of “the privilege involved in living with the expressive power of a van Gogh, the grace of a Matisse, the endlessly mutable genius of Picasso, and the primal energy of a Pollock….” It was this joyful and profoundly personal interaction with art that the Gechts sought to share with the wider world, as they embarked on a prodigious journey in cultural philanthropy and patronage.
In Chicago, the Gechts are remembered as tireless advocates for the arts. In addition to their support of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where Martin Gecht held leadership roles, the collectors were highly involved with the Art Institute of Chicago. Dr. Gecht first became associated with the museum when he asked a curator’s advice in authenticating a potential acquisition. Although the work was declared a fake, the collector was delighted to sit in conversation with an Art Institute expert. By 1975, Dr. Gecht had joined the museum’s Committee on Prints and Drawings, and was eventually named a life trustee. Alongside substantial monetary gifts, the Gechts made regular bequests to the museum’s permanent collection—a tradition that has continued via the ongoing generosity of the couple’s children. In growing their private collection, Martin and Francey Gecht were able to work with Art Institute curators and directors, including Suzanne Folds McCullough, Harold Joachim, and Douglas Druick. In 2003, they gifted thirty-one carefully chosen pieces to the museum, significantly augmenting the museum’s holdings. “I think the Art Institute is a great institution,” Mrs. Gecht said simply, “and we should enrich it.”
Few American collectors embraced the field of works on paper with the same enthusiasm and erudition as Martin and Francey Gecht. In 2003, the Art Institute presented the exhibition Graphic Modernism: Selections from the Francey and Dr. Martin L. Gecht Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, a celebration of the collectors’ achievements in culture and community.
With the death of Martin and Francey Gecht in 2005 and 2014, respectively, the Art Institute bequest came to stand as an especially poignant reminder of not only a decades-long commitment to art, but a tremendous generosity of spirit. In their outstanding collection of fine art, the legacy of Martin and Francey Gecht continues to resonate.
Christie’s is honored to be offering Pablo Picasso’s print masterpieces, La Minotauromachie, La Femme qui pleure and La Femme au Tambourin and additional works in the Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper and Day sales.
THE FRANCEY AND DR. MARTIN L. GECHT COLLECTION
B. Baer, Picasso, Peintre-Graveur, Bern, 1986, vol. II, p. 349, no. 462.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Graphic Modernism: Selections from the Francey and Dr. Martin L. Gecht Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago, November 2003-January 2004.