Obituary: Lucien Goldschmidt

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The Independent Online
Lucien Goldschmidt, antiquarian bookdealer, born Brussels 3 March 1912, died New York City 17 December 1992.

LUCIEN GOLDSCHMIDT was a citizen of the world. He would have liked to be called that, but it would be more true to say that the world of which he was a citizen was one that he had largely created. His life was divided between books and the world of art. Booksellers and art dealers normally lead rather separate careers, but Goldschmidt combined both, giving to each his own individual, highly independent, taste. Words and images combined to form an outlook on the world that was, in one word, civilised.

Goldschmidt was born in Brussels in 1912, but was educated at the College Royal Francais in Berlin. When he graduated, he went to work in Paris with Pierre Beres, a year younger than he was. After four years together, Goldschmidt set off for New York to set up a branch there. It was a courageous move; the Depression was far from over, and prints and books could only be sold for a few dollars then, which he was later to see multiply in value many hundred times. But he soon made his mark. There were two great collectors, Lessing Rosenwald and Philip Hofer, who shared his joint passion for books and graphic art, preferably in combination. Their collections, now at the Library of Congress and National Gallery at Washington and at the Houghton Library at Harvard, contain many pieces contributed by Goldschmidt, whose own taste, as forward-looking as appreciative of the past, had a formative influence on that of his customers.

Young students at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York came to the shop that he established at 6 West 56th Street, just off Fifth Avenue. Among those who bought their first prints there were Carl Schniewind, later curator of prints and drawings at the Brooklyn Museum and then at the Chicago Art Institute, Alan Shestack and Seymour Slive, who became directors fo the Museum of Fine Arts and the Fogg Museum at Boston. Goldschmidt found, too, friends among other art dealers: Alexandre Rosenberg, Peter Deltsch and Curt Valentin, and those who also sold books alongside graphic art, Charles Sessler and Jacob Zeitlin. In 1953, after 20 years with Beres, he set up his own at 1117 Madison Avenue.

The first print that he sold in 1937 was one of Picasso's Salome, taken before the plate was steel- faced. In 1949, after his return from three years of war service, he published Matisse's Jazz in the USA. It was slow to sell at dollars 350 then, but Goldschmidt lived to see the present Matisse exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art packed with crowds. In between, he had put on exhibitions, published catalogues and benefited the history of art in countless ways. The most enduring monument of his scholarship will be the collected letters of Toulouse-Lautrec which he edited in conjunction with Herbert Schimmel. Published in 1969, the texts, copiously and carefully annotated, provided an accurate biography of the artist for the first time.

But Goldschmidt ranged far beyound the art of the last hundred years. Old master drawings of any period or place awoke his fastidious expertise. It was he who identified the Sebastiano del Piombo drawing of Clement VII dividing the New World, with Charles V standing by. He offered it first to the Metropolitan Museum, who finally rejected it; the British Museum was wiser and bought it, 30 years ago now, for a mere dollars 900. He had a passionate interest in early photography, particularly in the first books to be illustrated with photographs. No one had studied the subject before, and the exhibition 'The Truthful Lens' at the Grolier Club, with the admirable monograph by Weston J. Naef and Goldschmidt, broke new ground. He was also fascinated, long before others, by architectural drawings, and only recently found and sold to the Canadian Center for Architecture the archives of the Rohault de Fleury family.

Although the visual arts formed a large part of Goldschmidt's world-view (recognised last year by the International Fine Print Dealers Association's Lifetime Achievement Award), he was as interested in the human mind. His catalogue The Good Citizen was an original approach to political theory from the ancient world to the present day, represented by books seen, as Goldschmidt always saw, from the point of view of the individual. In this, as in all else, he was original and independent.

Despite his slight figure, he was immensely strong; he put up with discomfort or hard work without complaint, indeed without seeming to notice. His integrity in daily life as in scholarship radiated from him and, with his capacity to belong wherever he was, gave him more than physical strength. His wife Marguerite shared in all this; children and grandchildren became part of it, as did the assistants (most recently Jane Carpenter) at the shop, whose careers, with him and after they moved on, he watched protectively. He formally retired from the business in 1987, but not from his always active life.