Design & Decoration S03 ep2 : Robert Landau, Landau Fine Art Dealer, [Montreal]
Interview with Robert Landau
Landau Fine Art is a family-run gallery that is unique in Canada since it is the only venue in the country where museum quality works of international masters can be found. Robert and Alice travel extensively not only to exhibit their latest acquisitions at the Basel, Chicago, Maastricht and Paris art fairs but also to search out important works from private estates. It is hardly surprising that so many dealers and collectors from around the globe make regular visits to Montreal (only 50 minutes by air from New York) for a private view in a gallery where works by Picasso, Miro, Leger, Moore, Chagall, Giacometti, Jawlensky, Dubuffet, etc., abound and where the Austrian master, Hundertwasser, can be discovered."
Landau Fine Arts is an art dealer and we’re reputed to be one of the leading art dealers of 20th
Century modern masters in the world. We live in Canada, Montreal and we’ve been established for
I didn’t start off in this business, I started off in the fur trade, used to make fur coats, Grosvenor
Furs, it was the biggest fur company in the world and we used to have fur stores in Europe, in New
York and everywhere and then I went out of that into real estate which I’m still involved in, in
Canada, I’d been a Sunday painter in my youth and then I started collecting and then we hung
some pictures on the wall and people started buying them.
Everything you see in our gallery is owned by us. I think we’re different from pretty much
everybody in this fair, a lot of people get things on consignment to sell for others, we don’t do that.
And if the fair has sixty or seventy thousand visitors we usually have over 100,000 come in here
because people come back, they come back and come back and come back.
Well sometimes people come in to see me and they say oh I didn’t expect to see anything like this
in Montreal, where else can I see something like this, and I said well you won’t even see it in the
museum next door because they don’t have this much 20th Century art.
Business today is totally different, it’s mainly done in art fairs and auctions. A lot of dealers
complain about the auctions because they think it’s competition but actually I think it’s good
competition because it makes a bigger market and when somebody buys something they feel they
can resell it and get their money back easier than they could in the old days when they had to beg a
dealer to try and sell it for them.
TEFAF is the best art and antique fair in the world because you can walk around here, you have to
be here for at least two days to take in everything that’s here. You can imagine how far you’d have
to walk around the world to see what you see in this building right now and appreciate it and talk
to people that know something about it, the material they bring here is vetted so that you can buy
with confidence which is a good thing, most art fairs are not vetted because it’s an expense to vet
Henry Moore was a friend of my father’s and I used to go and visit with him all the time so we’ve
always had a lot of Henry Moore here, as we have Lynne Chadwick. Some artists we have
relationships with but unfortunately all these artists are dead so and many of them died before I
was born so I didn’t have the opportunity to meet them but in the case of Henry Moore I always
wanted to buy a monumental piece for myself personally because I didn’t have a gallery in those
days and he said well I could have that one and he took me into his studio where he had a new
sculpture in plaster that was going to the foundry and I said well could I have that one instead
because I liked it better, so he said yes, you’ll have number one of the new edition and it went to
the foundry and I remember it was in July of that year and he died while it was at the foundry and
it was never cast and according to Henry Moore’s will nothing was ever cast after he died so I
never got it and I never got this one but subsequently I bought this one, privately, and that’s why
it’s here now and it’s fortuitous for me that I got it and it’s also interesting that it was the one he
wanted me to have when he was alive.
I think your taste evolves and I think if it doesn’t evolve then you become boring. I was looking at
a Broygal when I got here which I think is a fabulous picture, it’s on another dealer’s stand, but I
spent a long time looking at it because I really enjoyed looking at it, it’s not my field and my field
changes too, we started off in late 19th Century impressionism and Van Gogh’s and this and that
and the other, but my eye evolved, we went into Fove artists, then we went into Picasso and
cubism and Dada and surrealism and I remember when I first looked at Dubufet I couldn’t
understand or really appreciated his work but now I’m very accustomed to it, so it’s like if you first
hear Mozart maybe you won’t like it, maybe you won’t understand it but after a while your ear
gets attuned to that music and maybe you’ll like it. So you get interested in it but if you only listen
to Bach then I think your life is boring.
We have a product but our hunt is in the collector, we like people, our business is built of people.
Without the collectors, without the people we don’t have a business. They enable me to go out and
find the best things that we can find because otherwise you know we’re just a small family and our
purse wouldn’t allow us to keep buying and buying and buying.
The fur trade is really built on trust, we would buy sable skins in Leningrad that we had never seen,
described to us by somebody who was there and we have to trust them, trust their judgement, trust
what they’re saying to us. And if you ever broke your word or broke that trust that was the end of
your relationship with that person or whatever and we brought that into this gallery so that people
come in here now, I mean I sold something for oh a lot of money, over $10M to somebody last
November who was walking in the mountains in Switzerland and he said Robert, he said you can
tell I’m walking in the mountains because you can hear the cow bells and I could hear them over
the phone and I was in Florida, and he bought a painting from me over the phone that he had never
seen and he’s not a young man and he’d bought from important dealers and he said to me you
know this is the first time in my life I’ve ever bought anything that I haven’t seen and he said
you’re the only person that I could trust to do that.
You don’t actually need art. You can create your own art and that’s what I did when I was a young
boy and had no money, I didn’t understand why people couldn’t paint their own pictures and
decorate their own walls because that’s what I did on the weekends when I wasn’t working. But
after a while I bought my first painting and then I realised that my paintings weren’t as good as the
one that I brought home, so you improved but if you think back to the Medici family in Italy I
mean they employed artisans, painters, musicians to entertain them with music that could be
played better than they could play themselves, paintings that were more beautiful, architecture etc,
etc that was better, professionals and artisans and they could afford it so in this world today if you
can afford something and enjoy it, that’s why you have art.
We went once to an art fair in Dallas many years ago and it was in a tent and (a tent, you’re
serious) a tent yeah and the tent was set up in a parking lot in downtown Dallas and the parking lot
was made of mud and it was raining and the tent started to slide, it was you know (you’re serious)
it was on wooden boards (you’re serious) yeah and there was water coming up and so on and so
forth so and it wasn’t a very good time because nobody was doing any business but I had one man
who came in, he was a very rich man, and I had a large Picasso and the Picasso painting was about
five feet high, it was a vertical painting of a musketeer and he came up with his Texas drawl he
said oh that’s a nice painting he says I think that might look nice in my house, I want to put it over
the fireplace. And I said to him I said well I said I think this painting’s going to be too big to put
over a fireplace because I could not imagine a fireplace where you could put a six foot, five foot,
six foot painting. He said no, no he says I think it would look nice he said would you bring it to my
house and we can have a look at it over the fireplace. And I said well if you insist, we hadn’t sold
anything, nobody had sold anything, so we took the painting to his house, we went into this house
it had a 24 foot ceiling, he had the chandelier hanging from the ceiling from the original movie of
the Three Musketeers and he had this massive fireplace which had a mantle that was also about six
feet high and above the mantle I had to go up on two stepladders with the fellow that was helping
me and we put this Picasso painting and fortuitously there were two nails on the wall at exactly the
right height for this painting, so we hung the painting (is this serendipity or what!) yes, we hung
the painting and when I hung I said to myself, this painting is sold and sure enough he bought it.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Robert Landau, Landau Fine Art Dealers, Montreal