Today, cities across the globe, from Berlin to Hong Kong, have bustling gallery ecosystems—but it wasn’t always that way. During the 19th and 20th centuries, as gallery networks were forming in Paris, London, and New York, relatively small groups of dealers worked tirelessly to ensure that their presentations pushed art history forward. In the process, they helped formalize movements, from Impressionism to Cubism to Surrealism, and elevate artists who are now canonical in art history textbooks.
This list looks at 10 of the most important dealers from the mid-19th century to the years leading up to World War II. With their innovative business strategies and their groundbreaking exhibitions, they paved the way for dealers in the years to come. Without them, today’s galleries might look very different.
Although their galleries may differ vastly in style and sensibility, these dealers have one through-line—a willingness to take risks. A survey of these 10 dealers’ accomplishments follows below.