Obituary: Henry Roland
Saturday 09 January 1993
HENRY ROLAND was one of the partners of the greatly respected firm of London art dealers Roland, Browse and Delbanco.
In 1988, Roland circulated among his friends a privately printed memoir, Behind the Facade: recollections of an art dealer (published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1991), which admirably conveys his zest for life and mischievous good humour. The son of a doctor, he was born Heinrich Rosenbaum in Munich and studied art history at the universities of Berlin, Paris and Munich, where he obtained his doctorate in 1928. He had early decided on an art- dealer's career, encouraged by his dealer grandfather, and obtained a job with a private dealer in Berlin. But the American depression badly hit the German art market and Rosenbaum came to London late in 1929.
Here he met Gustav Delbanco and went into partnership with him, operating at first from a boarding-house bedroom until they had made enough money to rent an office in Piccadilly. He became a naturalised British subject in 1935 and changed his name to Henry Roland, although he was always known to friends as Heinz. At first, Delbanco and he specialised in Old Master paintings and drawings, and one of their greatest coups occurred during the war. Although a Senior Air Raid Warden, Roland had free time in which to visit the salerooms, and one day in 1942 he and Delbanco spotted an Entombment attributed to Isenbrandt, but which they believed to be much earlier and by a considerably more distinguished artist, Robert Campin (The Master of Flemalle). They formed a consortium of refugee German dealers - Arthur Kauffmann, Franz Drey and Alfred Scharf (jokingly called the Fondaco die Tedeschi) - and bought the painting for pounds 5,888. After the National Gallery had refused to buy it, Count Seilern bought it for pounds 16,000 and today it has an honoured place in the Courtauld Galleries.
This was only one spectacular instance of Roland's sharp-eyed recognition of quality, and his memoir abounds in stories of good things cheaply acquired and sold for a handsome profit. There were failures, too; but Roland became best known for his support of contemporary art, and in March 1945 he and Delbanco were joined by Lillian Browse in establishing the firm which bore their names until September 1977, when the lease of their Cork Street premises expired and they closed down. Lillian Browse continued to deal in partnership with William Darby, as Browse and Darby, for some years longer.
It was an extraordinary triumvirate: three very different personalities, yet each of them able to promote painters and sculptors in whom they passionately believed so as to create a recognisable gallery ethos that might be summed up as quality and 'belle peinture'. Roland supported artists as diverse as Josef Herman, Matthew Smith, Henry Moore, Victor Pasmore, Graham Sutherland and Philip Sutton. He rediscovered the Irish fauve Roderic O'Conor. His private collection reflected his particular interests, and contained superb examples of sculpture by Moore, Maillol and Rodin, Surrealist paintings by Max Ernst, as well as the intimistes Bonnard and Vuillard. German art was also strongly represented: Heckel, Nolde, Macke, Feininger and Schmidt- Rottluff.
Under medium height and, in later years, verging on the rotund, Roland exuded a quiet warmth and twinkling sense of fund. He could be serious enough when discussing an artist's work, but never pompous. He was twice married, first to Joyce Coe in 1932, by whom he had a son, Anthony. After an amicable divorce, he married Lilian Haitan, a former Bauhaus student; she died in 1984. They were a most cultivated, hospitable household, and her death caused him great distress. He adopted Lilian's nephew, Henry Hartley, after the war.
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