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Biographical Note | A Finding Aid to the Frank Perls papers and Frank Perls Gallery records, circa 1920-1983, bulk, 1949-1975

Frank Perls papers and Frank Perls Gallery records, circa 1920-1983, bulk, 1949-1975

Biographical Note

Frank Perls (1910-1975) was founder and sole owner of the Frank Perls Gallery in Beverly Hills, California.
Frank Perls was born in Germany on October 23, 1910. His parents, Hugo and Kaethe Perls, owned one of the leading art galleries in Berlin, and sold the work of many well-known artists. Artists works included in the gallery inventory were pieces by Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Cézanne, among others. His parents enjoyed a close friendship with Picasso, a relationship Perls maintained until Picasso's death in 1973. After his parents divorce in 1931, his mother left Germany and eventually opened the Galerie Kaethe in Paris.Frank Perls studied art history at the Universities of Munich, Berlin, and Frankfurt and joined his mother at the Galerie Kaethe in 1932.
Frank Perls immigrated to the United States in 1937 and partnered with his brother, Klaus Perls, to open the Perls Galleries in New York. Two years later he moved to California and opened the Frank Perls Gallery on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. During those first years, the Gallery hosted exhibitions by Man Ray, Eugene Berman, and John Decker.
Perls closed his gallery in 1942 when he enlisted in the United States Army. Because he was fluent in both French and German, Perls served as an interpreter at the Military Intelligence Service, European Theater of Operations. He landed in Normandy with the 30th Infantry Division and was awarded the Bronze Star in 1944. In 1945, Perls was assigned to the Arts and Monuments Section of Allied Military Government in Germany. He was honorably discharged in September, 1945.
After the war, Perls returned to Los Angeles and managed the recently opened Associated American Artists Gallery in Beverly Hills. The gallery was organized in 1934 and marketed art to the middle classes with the opportunity to purchase prints at affordable prices. Perls made significant contacts during his tenure at the gallery and eventually opened his own Beverly Hills gallery in 1950.
The Frank Perls Gallery on Camden Drive was closely associated with the Pierre Matisse Gallery and the Curt Valentin Gallery in New York, both major sources of exhibition materials for the early years. Perls introduced southern California to artists he believed represented the best modern art of America and Europe - Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Pablo Picasso, Ben Shahn, Georgia O'Keeffe, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, and Jean Dubuffet. Between 1950 to 1954, Frank Perls Gallery organized the first West coast exhibitions of Joan Miro, Marino Marini, and Alberto Giacometti. Perls also gave exhibitions to newly emerging artists of Southern California artists, including William Brice, Robert Chuey, Rico Lebrun, James McGarrell, Channing Peake, and Howard Warsaw.
Perls moved his gallery to Wilshire Boulevard in 1965 and stopped representing California artists at that time to focus primarily on major exhibitions of Henri Matisse and Picasso. In 1966, he helped organize an extensive traveling Henri Matisse exhibition at UCLA called
Matisse Retrospective
. Perls worked with Matisse's children, Pierre, Jean, and Marguerite Duthuit, to identify 345 prints and sculptures and attach family inventory numbers to them.
Frank Perls also organized several large Picasso exhibitions, including the
Bonne Fete Monsieur Picasso
exhibit at UCLA in 1961 and the
45 Selected Picasso Graphics
exhibition at Frank Perls Gallery in 1971. For his work in preparing these major exhibitions in California of Matisse and Picasso, Perls was made a life fellow of the Los Angeles County Museum.
Perls was a member of the Art Dealers of America, serving for several years on the Board of Directors and as director. He was also dedicated to exposing art fakes and forgeries, earning a reputation for discovering, exposing, and pursuing disreputable art appraisers and dealers. Perls wrote extensively about modern art and artists, as well as his experiences in short stories that often appeared in print.
Frank Perls died on February 8, 1975 from complications following open-heart surgery. The Gallery remained open until 1981 while his executor and family distributed the gallery inventory.