Finding Your Why

Ambroise Vollard was the oldest of 10 children. He was born on a French island colony in the Indian Ocean. He was a collector as a child, and this became his life calling. He was encouraged to be a doctor, but an observation of a surgical procedure caused him to pursue a legal career.

After two years of legal studies, a trip to Paris led him to his why in life. He fell in love with the art scene in Paris and got a job in an art dealership. Ambroise and the art dealer disagreed on paintings to display, so Ambroise made the bold move of setting up his own dealership. He was becoming a collector.

Ambroise’s why led him to buy works of lesser known artists. The sale of these paintings enabled him to be able to sign other little-known artists to contracts as their dealer. His big break came when he purchased unfinished works from the widow of Édouard Manet. This led to the attention of Edgar Degas and Pierre-Aguste Renoir. He was selected to represent them.

Paul Cézanne was another artist who Ambroise represented. Cézanne had not exhibited in 20 years. Ambroise became his exclusive dealer.

As Ambroise’s reputation of supporting artists grew, he began to take on what were considered avant-garde artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Not only did he exhibit paintings, he became a friend, supporter, and mentor to artists who were not accepted by the collector community. Later he added Pablo Picasso to his collection.

Ambroise died in 1939 as World War II was beginning. He had 10,000 works of art at the time. Ambroise was killed in a car crash at the age of 73. He had named an executor who realized that the paintings were in danger of being confiscated or destroyed by the advancing German Army. Many were moved to America.

The paintings were saved and remain with us today, some in private collections and others in museums. Some were not discovered until 1979, but the world would not have lost a valuable art legacy if Ambroise Vollard had not found his why.

Finding your why is not something you put on a schedule. For Ambroise, he found his why early in life. For others, their why may not be found until their lives are fully lived. Some may find their why as a full-time career as did Ambroise. For others, your why might be a passion that supplements your career. Your why will probably not appear as an epiphany but will gradually become a part of what gives you great satisfaction.

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“As I work at my drawings, day after day, what seemed unattainable before is now gradually becoming possible. Slowly, I’m learning to observe and measure. I don’t stand quite so helpless before nature any longer.” – Vincent van Goghn (possible reflection after being encouraged by Ambroise Vollard)

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