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A Guide to Provenance Research at the Archives of American Art

Methodologies and Resources: Perls Galleries records, 1937-1997

Users will find World War II era provenance documentation in the records of Perls Galleries, founded by dealer Klaus Perls (1912–2008) in New York in 1937. The gallery promoted contemporary French artists of the School of Paris, and later acted as the primary representative of Alexander Calder. Before moving to New York in 1935, Perls worked for his mother, Kaethe Perls, in her Paris gallery. After World War II, with the expansion of the international art market, Klaus Perls made frequent buying trips to Europe. The Perls Galleries continued to sell primarily contemporary French art and gained an early reputation as a champion of modern art by European artists such as Picasso, Modigliani, Braque, Léger, Soutine and Pascin. Klaus was named as a third-party defendant in the 1969 World War II looted art case Menzel v. List. When Erna Menzel sued Albert List for ownership of a Chagall painting confiscated from Menzel by the Nazis, List in turn sued Perls, who had sold him the painting in 1955, having purchased it himself from an art dealer in Paris. The court awarded the Chagall painting to Menzel and ordered Perls to pay List the appreciated value of the painting.

Perls Galleries’ records are comprised primarily of correspondence documenting exhibitions, loans, sales, and administrative affairs. Correspondence is with artists, galleries, museums, collectors, and dealers, among others. Significant correspondents include artists Darrell Austin, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and Karl Priebe; galleries such as the Corcoran Gallery, Fujikawa Galleries, Galerie Maeght, and the Pierre Matisse Gallery; museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Whitney Museum of Modern Art; collectors such as Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz, Adelaide de Ménil, Valentine Dudensing, and Henry Ford, II; and celebrity clients such as Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock, Henry and Clare Booth Luce, and Barbra Streisand. Many of the correspondence files also include copies of invoices for artwork sold and occasional provenance information, useful to supplement the relatively small amount of sales records in the collection.

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