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Charles Seliger

/Works and biography

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Portrait of Howard Putzel, 1943
Pencil and ink on paper, 12.7 x 7.6 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Venice
Gift of the artist, 2006.78


Howard Putzel (1898–1945) was a little known and short-lived writer and dealer who has been described as “a figure of major importance for the development of American art.” (Melvin Lader, ‘Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century: The Surrealist Milieu and the American Avant-garde, 1942-1947,’ Ph.D. dissertation, University of Delaware, 1981, p. 141. Published by University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Lader dedicates a chapter of this thesis to Howard Putzel, pp. 141-91.) In the early 1930s Putzel came to know Duchamp and the collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg, and organized a series of exhibitions in California demonstrating a precocious (for the United States) knowledge of European Surrealism, first in San Francisco (1934-35) and later in Los Angeles (1935-38). He moved to Paris in 1938-39 and befriended Peggy, whom he advised on purchases as she accumulated her collection. When he relocated to New York in the summer of 1940 his interest turned to finding new, native talent. Peggy re-established contact with her friend when she herself arrived in New York a year later. In March 1943 Jimmy Ernst, Peggy’s secretary at Art of This Century) left her employ to set up his own gallery, and this opened the way for Putzel to become secretary. Putzel turned Peggy’s attention away from the milieu of the European avant-garde in favor of young American artists. This signalled the beginning of Peggy’s patronage henceforth of American rather than European art. In 1944 Putzel left Peggy’s employ in order to open his own gallery in New York (67 Gallery). He died suddenly in 1945.

This small drawing by Putzel’s friend Charles Seliger (1926–2009) may be the only surviving record of Putzel’s appearance, and served for the casting of Putzel in the film Pollock (2000), starring Ed Harris.

credits: Hangar Design Group