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Perls Galleries records, 1937-1997

Perls Galleries records, 1937-1997

Perls Galleries

Collection Information

Size: 79.7 linear ft.

Summary: The records of the Perls Galleries measure 79.7 linear feet and date from 1937 to 1997. Founded by Klaus Perls in 1937 and operating until 1997, the gallery dealt primarily in modern French art and the artwork of Alexander Calder. Found within the records are extensive correspondence (circa 44 linear feet) with artists, dealers, galleries, museums, and collectors; photographs and negatives of inventory and other artwork; exhibition files, scattered financial records; and exhibition catalogs and clippings.

Correspondence primarily discusses sales (and includes invoices), loans, and exhibitions, as well as more routine activities such as gallery maintenance, the printing of exhibition catalogs and letterhead, and the shipment, framing, or restoration of artwork. Many letters enclose photographs, negatives, or slides of artwork, and clippings. A few letters contain oversize architectural or engineering drawings, and a small handful of letters are illustrated.

Correspondents include artists such as 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 Menil, Valentine Dudensing, and Henry Ford, II; and celebrity clients such as Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock, Henry and Clare Booth Luce, and Barbra Streisand.

The records contain nearly thirty-two linear feet of photographs and negatives. Photographs are of artists and the inventory of the gallery's artwork. Additional photographs represent artwork either by artists not represented by the gallery or not included in the gallery's inventory. Most of the photographs are black and white. Over fifteen linear feet of negatives are of gallery stock. Photographs are also found in the exhibition files.

There is a relatively small amount of records relating to exhibitions, loans, and sales. Found are exhibition lists, schedules, invitations and announcements, photographs of exhibition installations, press releases, and records of loans to other institutions and galleries. Sales records include artist lists, inventory lists, invoices, pick up and delivery receipts, and price lists.

Printed materials include a large number of clippings and an incomplete run of catalogs from Perls Galleries exhibitions between 1939 and 1980.

The collection also includes ten original pencil drawings from John Canaday's series entitled, "My Beautiful Girls" and a reproduction of eight drawings from the same series.

Biographical/Historical Note

The Perls Galleries (1937-1996) was a New York art gallery. The gallery dealt in contemporary French artists of the School of Paris, such as Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, but also acted as the primary representative of Alexander Calder beginning in 1954.


The records were donated in 1997 by Douglas Mayhew, associate and legal representive of Klaus G. and Amelia B. Perls.

Related Materials

Among the resources relating to the Perls Galleries in the Archives of American Art is an oral history interview with Klaus Perls done by Mona Hadler on January 19, 1993.

A Finding Aid to the Perls Galleries Records,
, in the Archives of American Art
Historical Note
Klaus Perls (b. 1912, d. 2008) formally opened Perls Galleries in New York in 1937, and ran it with his wife Amelia until its closing in 1997. The gallery dealt in contemporary French artists of the School of Paris, such as Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, but also acted as the primary representative of Alexander Calder beginning in 1954. In the 1970s Mr. Perls developed an interest in art from Benin and built an important collection of African sculpture, some of which was later donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Amelia Perls died in 2002, and Klaus Perls died in 2008.
Klaus Perls was born in 1912 in Berlin in a house Mies van der Rohe designed for his parents, who owned an art gallery specializing in Impressionists, post-Impressionists, Old Master paintings, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and African sculpture. Perls studied Art History in Hamburg and Munich but completed his PhD in Basel, Switzerland in 1933 after the Nazi government stopped awarding degrees to Jews. His dissertation covered the complete works of 15th-century French painter Jean Fouquet.
Before moving to New York in 1935, Perls worked for his mother, Kaethe Perls, in her Paris gallery that she opened in 1932 after splitting up with Klaus' father Hugo. He spent his first two years in New York selling paintings through other art dealers, primarily paintings shipped or recommended to him by his mother from Paris that were not selling well in the Depression-era French art market. These were primarily the work of Maurice Utrillo, Marie Laurencin, Raoul Dufy and Maurice de Vlaminck. In 1937 he formally established his own gallery, the Perls Galleries, on East 58th Street and continued to specialize in French and European contemporary art. Around the same time, his older brother Frank opened a gallery in Beverly Hills, California.
Klaus Perls was familiar with other New York dealers specializing in modern European art such as Valentine Dudensing and Pierre Matisse, but he tried to distinguish himself by catering to young collectors. When the war restricted the international art trade and his mother was forced to flee France during the Occupation, Perls began dealing in contemporary American artists such as Darrel Austin and Karl Priebe.
Perls married Amelia Blumenthal, fondly known as "Dolly," in 1940, and she became his business partner.
After the war, the international art market exploded, and the Perls made frequent buying trips to Europe. The Perls Galleries continued to sell primarily contemporary French art and gained an early reputation as a staunch defender of modern art by European artists such as Picasso, Modigliani, Braque, Lger, Soutine and Pascin. Perls prepared catalogues raisonns on Soutine and Pascin.
Klaus Perls was one of the founding members of the Art Dealer's Association, whose initial mission was to clean up the reputation of the art market following a series scandals involving fake antiquities that flourished in the 1960's. Perls was the Association's second president, after Pierre Matisse.
In 1954 Perls Galleries moved to 1016 Madison Avenue, a building that served as both gallery and home for the Perls. The same year Perls became Alexander Calder's dealer after the death of Calder's previous dealer, Curt Valentin. Perls explained his inclusion of Calder, a rare American among his stable of European artists, by saying that Calder's roots lay in France and that Calder bridged Europe and America the way Perls felt he did himself. In 1970, Calder designed the terrazzo sidewalk in front of the gallery and often resided in the Perls' home during long visits to New York City. Perls Galleries later handled Calder's estate and functioned as a quasi-archives of Calder's works, holding more than 7,000 negatives depicting Calder's art and preparing a Calder catalogue raisonn.
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 a Paris art dealer. The court awarded the Chagall painting to Menzel and ordered Perls to pay List the appreciated value of the painting.
Perls began building an important collection of African artwork and fell in love with art from Benin in the 1970's. In 1991 he donated more than 150 pieces of royal art from Benin to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Perls closed their gallery in 1997; Amelia Perls died in 2002, and Klaus Perls died in 2008.
The collection is arranged as 7 series:
Series 1: Correspondence, 1937-1995 (Boxes 1-44, OV 81-83; 43.6 linear feet)
Series 2: Negatives, circa 1937-1995 (Boxes 44-59; 15.7 linear feet)
Series 3: Photographs, circa 1937-1995 (Boxes 60-75, OV 84; 16.1 linear feet)
Series 4: Exhibition, Loan, and Sales Records, 1937-1995 (Boxes 76-78; 2.1 linear feet)
Series 5: Clippings Files, 1943-1989 (Box 78; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 6: Exhibition Catalogs, 1939-1980 (Boxes 78-79; 1.4 linear feet)
Series 7: Drawings by John Canaday, circa 1967-1972 (Box 80; 0.3 linear feet)
The records were donated in 1997 by Douglas Mayhew, associate and legal representive of Klaus G. and Amelia B. Perls.
Processing Information
This collection was sealed until the death of Klaus Perls in 2008. The collection was processed by Julie Schweitzer in 2008.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Perls Galleries records, 1937-1997. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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