11 NOVEMBER 1966, Page 18

Intellectual Dealer

given the time of appalling adversity: I think I shall begin a collection of poetry.'

No matter how serious our motives on read- ing a diary, an ineradicable and human curiosity conspires to make us look first, almost, for the proper names contained in the text. Rend Gimpel's diary has a resounding list: Clemenceau, Proust, Monet, Degas, Soutine and Braque, among many others. What he has to say of them is enthralling. Monet, in 1918:

. . . he took us down the paths of his garden to a newly built studio constructed like a humble village church. Inside there is only one huge room with a glass roof, and there we were confronted by a strange artistic spec- tacle: a dozen canvases placed one after another in a circle on the ground, all about six feet wide by four feet high: a panorama of water and water lilies, of light and sky. In this infinity, the water and the sky had neither beginning nor end. It was as though we were present at one of the first hours of the beginning of the world.

In 1930, Soutine . . went to a butcher to buy a calf's head to paint it, but he wanted to choose and explained to the butcher: "You do understand, I want a calf's head of distinc- tion?" Again in 1918, a shaking description of Renoir, crippled:

. . . I caught sight of him: they were bringing him down, two women conveying him down in a kind of litter. . . . Seated he is a fright- ful spectacle, elbows clamped to his sides, fore- arms raised; he was shaking two sinister stumps dangling with threads and very narrow ribbons. His fingers are cut almost to the quick: the bones jut out, with barely some skin on them. Ah, no, he has his fingers—pressed in and spread against the palms of his hands, his pitiful fleshless hands like the claws of a chicken plucked and trussed ready for the spit.

The observations in this book are immensely varied, covering an unclassifiable range of con- text, character and situation. Much of the diary is reflective, there are some sharp aphorisms (comment by a fellow dealer to Berenson after a patronising remark about dealers: 'You are a dealing intellectual, I am an intellectual dealer'), and there is much trenchant insight into poetry, mediaeval art and cathedrals, literature, social values, family and friendship, and travel.

Some mediaeval sculpture in fact is included in the exhibition, and a selection of leather-tooled book bindings showing an authoritative flair for linear design, notably in a binding for a volume of Anatole France which shows Rend Gimpel's understanding of the early modern movement. But the revelation of the show is a Degas por- trait of Rouart's sister which, in its range of

* DIARY OF AN ART DEALER. By Rene Gimpel. (To be published by Hodder and Stoughton on November 21, 70s.) painting technique detonated by empathy for light, surfaces and space, and in its concern for individual psychology, is practically encyclo- paedic: this is a great Degas and should not be missed. Paintings by Titian, Poussin and Frago- nard complete the account of personal taste that also commissioned family portraits from Lauren- cin at the same time as works by Soutine, Mintchine, Monet and Derain (a disconcerting and extremely fine painting of two sisters) were added to the private collection. Here, in fact, is the solid evidence of the pursuits of that most agreeable microcosm: a civilised French family, enlivened by Jewish blood, with English ties springing from marriage as well as intellectual sympathy. Writing of another aviator, at the time of Lindbergh, Rend Gimpel said: If a diary can be shown to be of any use, I would like the case of Nungesser to be an example and an encouragement. Nungesser, who wasn't afraid of dying, was afraid that in spite of his exploits he would die without being sure that the honesty of his bravery was known.

Rene Gimpel's diary is of real use and his heirs have touched on his courageous death more lightly than myself.