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PROPERTY FROM THE PERSONAL COLLECTION OF MAX G. BOLLAG, ZURICH
The influential Swiss art dealer Max G. Bollag was born in 1913, started his own business at the age of 25 and worked every day until he was 85 years old. Renowned for his expert eye, profound knowledge and innate personal charm and insight, he was a key figure in the local art world, but also the man many collectors and aficionados from all over the world would visit when in Zurich.
Max and his twin sister Mary were born into a family of art dealers on 6 December 1913, an era when their father and uncle of the renowned Salon Bollag were acquiring works in Paris directly from Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Juan Gris, and others. Max and Mary were the first children of four of Léon Bollag and Babette (Betty) Bollag-Moos. Betty herself had an impressive artistic background; by 1899 the Moos family had opened the first art gallery ever founded in Karlsruhe, with Betty and her brothers Ivan and Max assisting their father in the business. In 1906 the Moos siblings Max and Betty opened the influential Maison Moos in Geneva, a key promoter of Swiss artists, such as Hodler, Menn and Amiet, which soon expanded to include Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, with an emphasis on French artists. Gallery Moos in Toronto is part of this family as well, Walter Moos, the late founder, being Betty’s nephew.
Léon Bollag and Betty Moos met in Geneva, married, and moved to Zurich in 1908, where, together with Gustave, Léon’s older brother, they opened the Salon Bollag in 1912 in Utoschloss, a prestigious address. They were probably the first auctioneers in the country, and one of the first fine art galleries. Initially specialising in Swiss artists or artists of Swiss origin such as Buchser, Füssli (Henry Fuseli RA), Hodler, Giacometti and Segantini, they soon diversified their portfolio. Gustave, who lived in London for part of the year, had contacts with dealerships such as the Leicester Galleries, a good source for Füssli, and was often active in New York, where the Bollag brothers had spent part of their childhood.
Through contacts established by the influential Paris-based art dealer Berthe Weill, a friend of the family, the Bollags began to acquire works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Amedeo Modigliani and Juan Gris, often directly from the artists themselves. They also had good connections with the leading Parisian dealers of the day, including Durand-Ruel, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and Bernheim-Jeune, from whom they acquired important Impressionist works by Renoir, Degas, Manet and Pissarro. Some of the works acquired by the brothers at this time were destined to remain in the family for the next century. Bringing challenging new art to the Zurich art scene was met with great interest from many visionary Swiss collectors and, by the early 1920s, their progressive outlook and enthusiasm for modern art ensured that the Salon Bollag had become an important source for avant-garde collectors, both in Switzerland and abroad.
Growing up surrounded by exquisite fine art, in a cosmopolitan, multi-lingual family that would switch freely between English, French, Alsatian dialect and German, and that would welcome guests from all over the world, it is no wonder that young Max became an art dealer himself. In 1935, at the age of 23, his father sent him on his own for the first time to visit clients outside of Zurich, with a selection of paintings loaded into his car. Less than a year later, visiting his uncle Gustave in London, he invested some of his own money - some sixty pounds - in art, which he quickly managed to sell well back in Zurich. Enjoying similar success on a second trip in 1937, Max decided to open his own gallery in Zurich a year later, on Rämistrasse. Thanks to his unerring eye for quality, his passion and his personality, his gallery soon became well known on the art scene.
So as not to compete with his father and uncle, in 1940 Max decided to move to Lausanne, where he specialised both in Swiss artists and the Parisian avant-garde. He also held auctions, a method of selling at which he excelled. He moved back to Zurich in 1947 and, in 1949, married a beautiful, intelligent young woman, Susi Aeppli, with whom he would have four children. Having found a good space on fashionable Storchengasse, he filled it with works by Picasso, Cézanne, Derain, Kandinsky and Klee and the quality of his selection as well as the personality of the owner soon made the space a hub of activity. Reluctant to give up his auctions but inhibited by local regulations allowing for only two auctions a year, he founded the ‘Swiss Society of the Friends of Art Auctioneering’, a members-only club with an annual fee of five francs a year, so that he could continue auctioneering. To avoid confusion with the Salon Bollag, as well as with the Galerie Suzanne Bollag (founded by Max’s younger sister in 1958), he re-named his gallery ‘Modern Art Center’; however, most people continued to refer to it as the Galerie Max G. Bollag.
Gallery space in a good location was not easy to find at this time. After Storchengasse he moved his operation several times before finally, in 1963, finding an ideal space on Werdmühlestrasse, just off the famous Zurich Bahnhofstrasse, 450 square metres with walls four meters high. It belonged to the city, which decided soon after to transform the space into offices. Max mobilised friends, clients, dignitaries and just about anybody he could, collecting around 600 signatures in just a few days. Despite this, he lost two thirds of the gallery, forcing him to cram his vast collection into the remaining space. Being both optimistic and innovative, this necessity soon became a kind of statement. The gallery would be something like the galleries of old in Paris; every inch of wall was utilised, every table and shelf piled high with books and catalogues for visitors to peruse, pictures stacked everywhere. Auctions were still held in whatever space could be found, or cleared. Anachronistic as it was, it was inspiring and divisive: one either loved it or hated it.
At the centre of all this was Max G. Bollag, known by art aficionados around the world and by almost everyone in town. In the morning flocks of birds would follow him into the gallery to be fed, colleagues would come in to find sources for provenance research, ladies to get their daily fix of witty flirtation; everyone who entered the gallery – young, old, rich, poor – found a man who loved to share his knowledge, who knew how to listen; young artists would come for his opinion and guidance, travellers and artists would be generously invited for a good meal in a nearby restaurant, and of course the constant flow of buyers and sellers from around the world. Max was to be found in the gallery every day, taking on every task himself, from the lowest chores to the most important business decisions. In 1998, at the age of 85, he was forced to stop work due to health problems, but would visit the gallery until his death in 2005. His 90th birthday was held in the gallery, some 500 people celebrating the old king in his former palace.