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THE HEIDI VOLLMOELLER COLLECTION
In the world of antiquities, with more than its share of unusual personalities, Heidi Vollmoeller is unique. Strong-willed, aggressive, energetic and passionate, she ventured as a lone woman into a field dominated by 'old boys'.
Miss Vollmoeller became a dealer in Switzerland in the 1950s, at a time when there were hardly any women in business, least of all in conservative Switzerland, where women would wait decades more for the right to vote. She was fearless and outspoken to a fault. She knew exactly what she wanted and how she wanted it and, on most occasions, got it. A dear friend of hers admitted recently, however, "I was never in my life thrown out of restaurants until I started eating out with Heidi Vollmoeller."
She was extremely deferential and kind to museum curators, and flew thousands of miles to attend as many exhibition openings as she could, always supportive, always attentive. Yet she took personal affront if something wasn't bought immediately upon being offered, as though these institutional clients walked around with open cheque-books to their museums' millions. She wrote indignant letters to directors scolding them for ignoring her treasures. But she wasn't wrong, for treasures she did have, as is evident in this sale. And, during the decades that she was in business, more than seventy museums worldwide acquired works of art from Heidi Vollmoeller. It is unlikely that another living antiquities' dealer could make a similar statement.
Miss Vollmoeller was born in Germany but her father, fearing what was to come, moved his family to Zurich in 1928, and founded a textile manufacturing company there. In 1946 after her father's death, Heidi, who had been a champion ice-skater in Switzerland, moved to Paris to study ballet. Her love of antiquities had already been kindled by her uncle and beloved mentor, the painter Hans Purrmann who, during his years of living in Italy and southern Switzerland, collected antiquities and passed his passion for ancient art to his favourite niece. Uncle Hans advised Heidi to visit Hôtel Drouot every day so that she could start her own collection. In those days, one could do quite a bit of damage at a Hôtel Drouot antiquities' auction with only a little money and, in a very short time, she amassed a notable collection.
While in Paris, she attracted the attention of Jacques Matossian--of the Cairo tobacco family--both a collector and vendor of antiquities. He convinced her to return to Zurich and go into business as an antiquities' dealer, selling both from her own collection and on consignment from him. In addition, she became a close colleague of the great numismatist and classical antiquities' dealer, Herbert Cahn, who worked in nearby Basel, and also of Pino Donati who had a gallery in Lugano. Her first gallery was on the Limmatquai at the base of Zurich's old city. In the 1960s she moved to Bahnhofstrasse across from the famous chocolatier, Sprüngli. In the early 1970s, after her mother's death, Miss Vollmoeller moved her gallery into what had been the family home since 1928 on Kurhausstrasse, near the Dolder Hotel.
The Vollmoeller house on Kurhausstrasse was nearly a one-stop shop for museums. It had almost everything, for Heidi was rare among antiquities' dealers in the breadth of her taste and knowledge, which included not only Mediterranean antiquities, medieval art, pre-Columbian, Oceanic, Islamic and African art, but modern art as well. There again was Uncle Hans' influence. It was through him that she knew his teacher and great friend Matisse (travelling with Hans to the opening of the chapel decorated by Matisse near Vence, France), as well as other contemporary artists, such as Max Bill, whom she championed. Although it was close to the street, the huge gray stone house was mostly hidden by trees. Visitors gained access through a creaky iron gate, up narrow stone stairs, past the trees to the columned porch, where one would ring and be buzzed in through a massive door. The process was a little spooky.
The interior was bright, however, with room after room of lighted glass vitrines, which seemed powered by their owner's virtual electricity. She was avid as she moved from case to case showing off her favourite objects. Despite a badly repaired leg broken in an ice-skating accident, she moved with the grace of a ballerina, her beautiful dresses and shawls in richly woven materials--a tribute to her family business--flowing about her, dramatizing every gesture. She was a high-voltage individual, and although today she is no longer in her first youth, she still has moments of great vivacity. She is one of those rare individuals who speak directly to people, locking her bright blue eyes with those of her quarry, demanding as equal an intensity of response as one can muster.
In her own words, Heidi Vollmoeller is "an 'eye'-person". It is the aesthetic beauty of an object--not the iconography, not the historical importance, not the rarity--which excites her. The evidence of that is in the marvelous collection of objects presented in this sale.
Arielle P. Kozloff