Obituary: Eric Estorick
Friday 31 December 1993
IN 1963 Eric Estorick and his wife Sal opened in the Grosvenor Gallery the largest and most splendidly equipped public gallery in London and perhaps in Europe. It had 5,800 square feet of floor space facing Davies Street with a window as wide as the gallery. At the time of the notorious 'Hung by Scarfe' sculpture exhibition, 1969, crowds of people gazing in stopped the traffic and an outraged visitor said: 'I hope someone throws a brick through your window.' Sal said: 'We want people to see that an art gallery is no longer a holy of holies.' It was an 'internationally minded art emporium' called by Arthur Moyse in the Anarchist Weekly 'this supermarket of the creative mind'.
Eric Estorick was born in New York of Jewish parentage, in 1913. He took a PhD in sociology at New York University and was appointed instructor at Columbia University. During the Second World War he became head of the British Empire Division of the United States Broadcast Intelligence Service. After the war he brought out the Torahs seized by the Nazis in Czechoslovakia. He wrote a number of books, including biographies of Stafford Cripps in 1940 and 1949, The Changing Empire in 1950, a privately printed History of Marks and Spencers, and an unpublished novel in collaboration with Dora (wife of Bertrand) Russell.
The ambition of the Grosvenor Gallery was to 'show 20th-century modern masters and the developing talent of young artists wherever they may be found'. In four years, between 1960 and 1964, Estorick visited Russia 14 times, to 'build bridges between East and West'. He went to Tblisi in Georgia to meet Ilya Ehrenburg, who greeted him: 'I hear you are buying all the shit in Russia.' The gallery's exhibition 'Aspects of Russian Experimental Art ' was a revelation to the British public.
Exhibitions were drawn from the five continents: from the United States, South Africa, Greece, Holland, Poland, Israel and from Eastern Europe; from China, Japan, Australia, India, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Many were pioneering exhibitions: Archipenko's Memorial Exhibition, when the Tate owned no work by him; Music, Gutfreund, the first London show of Lissitzky, when there were no works by him in any other collection in Great Britain, Bourdelle, Favorsky, Kaplan, David Burliuk.
Among the most captivating exhibitions were those that embraced an idea: 'Art in the Executive Suite' was original in concept and brilliant in execution. 'Friends and Famous People' of 1968 drew from The American Abroad the headline: 'If your portrait's here, you're famous'. The enchanting Art Nouveau exhibition of 1966 led to the rediscovery of the Russian artist Erte, then in his late seventies, and to the celebration in another exhibition of the leaders of Art Nouveau and Art Deco: Mucha and Erte.
In 1956 Estorick's Italian collection was shown at the Tate Gallery. In April 1969 a four-month season of 20th-century Italian art began at the Grosvenor Gallery: 'a survey in depth of Italy's leading artists and art movements'. To buy their works Estorick had visited many of the artists. Some of them he knew well. His collection of modern Italian art has been made over to a charitable educational foundation based in London.
In 1971 the Grosvenor Gallery left Davies Street and became a dealers' gallery. In 1967 Estorick had met Erte in Paris. During the next 20 years when Erte not only continued painting and dress designing but also created designs for a variety of clothing, jewellery, giftwear, graphics and sculpture, Estorick acted as his exclusive world agent. A dollars 100m- a-year business was thus created.
In 1993 the Grosvenor Gallery was opened again to the general public in Albemarle Street, London. Eric Estorick was an intellectual who in his late teens fell in love with modern art and began to form a collection which is now world- famous. A successful dealer is primarily a tradesman. For the Estoricks there was always a conflict between the longing to possess and the longing to sell.
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