Behind every great artist, is someone who supported them. Art dealers, collectors, and galleries help bring esteem and admiration to an artist or an art movement. One of the country’s most notable supporters of the arts gave rise to this very idea in the 1920s.
Edith Halpert, businesswomen turned art dealer, is most known for championing American art in the early 20th century and trailblazing the rise of the modern art gallery. While European impressionism was all the rage, Edith was able to bring recognition to many avant-garde American artists.
Before her rise in the art industry, Edith first made a name for herself as a leading female executive. Between 1920-1925, Edith worked in a number of roles at the investment banking firm S.W. Straus & Company. By the time she was 25, Edith was named to the board of directors - earning her a reputable reputation and a then-unheard of salary of six thousand dollars a year.
Despite her success, Edith eventually left her position at Straus and was then able to refocus with her first love: modern art. While traveling abroad with her husband, she noticed that many European artists had more opportunities to display and consequently sell their work. With the money she earned at her time with Straus, Edith was able to open the Downton Gallery in
Greenwich Village upon her return to NYC. By 1931, she had opened the American Folk Art Gallery and the Daylight Gallery. Her business savvy, eye, and dedication helped triumph the American art genre through the modern age.
As a gallery owner myself, I find Edith exceptionally inspirational. She brought recognition and appreciation to a genre that otherwise was ignored. Her charitable work, continuous education efforts, and contributions to the art world are many reasons I go into this career. Not only did her revolutionary career pave the way for women in the arts, but her dedication to the freedom of expression made way for a more diverse culture.
For my fellow New Yorkers, you can learn more about Edith Halpert at the Edith Halpert and the Rise of American Art Exhibit running through February 5th. The exhibit will feature approximately 100 works of American modern and folk art that passed through the Downtown Gallery. You can learn more here.