It was Maillol himself who first broached the idea that his model Dina Vierny should open an art gallery after his death. In her words: “Maillol had always dreamed of a gallery for me. The trouble was, I did not see myself as a business person, not at all.”
After Maillol’s death and the end of the war, his friend Henri Matisse came to Paris and persuaded her to do it after all. “You were made for that. You are essentially an artist yourself. You live with artists and you will run the gallery very well. I’ll help you with it…” (quotations from Dina Vierny, The Story of my Life, page 143.)
Her story of how she found the premises for her gallery was that she went into a coal dealer’s shop on Rue Jacob and asked to use his telephone. In the 1940s there were numerous shops selling coal and firewood, but few telephone booths and of course no such thing as a mobile phone. The coal merchant listened to what she said on the phone, and when she had hung up he said: “Madame is looking for premises for a shop? You can have mine.”
That evening she met up with Matisse and told him she had found a place. “It’s a coal shop.” She told him the coal dealer’s price, and he said “You can sell one of the boss’s drawings.” The boss (le patron) was Maillol.
“Sell the boss’s most beautiful drawing, that will cover the cost and you can open a gallery.” “But Matisse, that will take a lot of work. The place is a ruin.” Matisse persuaded a friend of his, the architect August Perret, to design the interior. “And he did it so well that for over fifty years it didn’t even need a lick of paint.” (page 144)
She opened her gallery in January 1947, and it was a huge success from the very beginning. “I started with Maillol, obviously. Drawings, paintings and sculptures. And then I displayed some masterpieces by Rodin from private collections. After that I displayed Henri Laurens. And many others.” (page 145)
Dina went on running her art gallery for the rest of her life, even after she opened the Maillol Museum, a few blocks away, in 1995.
Today the gallery is run by her older son, Olivier Lorquin, who is also the president of the Dina Vierny Foundation and director of the Maillol Museum.
As of the spring of 2019, the Galerie Dina Vierny is showing works by the French sculptor Robert Couturier (1905-2008) — not to be confused with the architect of the same name, who was born fifty years later.
My photos and text in this post are from 2019.
See also: Dina Vierny and the Maillol Museum.