The Zander Collection
The Zander Collection is one of the largest and most important of its kind in the world. For more than 60 years, the gallerist and collector Charlotte Zander (b. 1930–d. 2014) collected masterpieces of Naïve Art, Art Brut, and Outsider Art with unique art-historical value. Although works by autodidacts have been represented rarely, if at all, in major museums around the world, Charlotte Zander recognized the quality of these very diverse artistic positions and was not deterred by the dominant canon of art history, which continues to largely ignore these artists. In so doing, she established a link with a time before this separation existed – in the beginning of modernism at the turn of the 19th and the 20th century.
Art of the Avant-garde
Modernist artists were driven by the search for alternative worlds. They regarded non-European artworks, paintings by children or the mentally ill, and works by self-taught artists as non-academic and as a kind of intellectual fountain of youth. In their longing for an unspoiled primitivism, they turned to art by autodidacts like Henri Rousseau, Séraphine Louis, André Bauchant, Camille Bombois, and Louis Vivin, all of whom are represented in the Zander Collection with unique selections of their work. None of these artists trained at an art academy, and all of them had other professions, such as customs officer, cleaning woman, gardener, and postal clerk. Henri Rousseau (who was also known as “le Douanier,” the customs officer, because of his job) was a star of the Paris avant-garde. He exhibited his works in the Salon des Indépendants in Paris for the first time in 1886. Although he was initially mocked, he was soon praised by one critic for the originality of his works, which “in their naivety, were reminiscent of the Italian Primitives of the early Renaissance.” Artists and writers like Paul Gauguin, Alfred Jarry, Pablo Picasso, and Robert Delaunay were fascinated by Rousseau’s work. The German art dealer Wilhelm Uhde, who was a key figure in the avant-garde, also took notice of him. Uhde collected Picasso and Braque, and he promoted their work as well as that of Rousseau, and he wrote a book about him in 1911. Uhde also discovered the other major Naïve artists: Séraphine Louis, and after the confusion of the First World War, André Bauchant, Camille Bombois, and Louis Vivin. After this, Naïve Art and its connection with the artists of the avant-garde became a theme of many exhibitions in Europe and the US.
Self-taught Artists in the US
Just as Uhde was important in Paris, Alfred H. Barr was important in New York. In 1933, Barr, who was the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, showed the first installment of an exhibition trilogy that explored the many different movements of modern art. The first exhibition featured Cubism and Abstraction, the second Dada and Surrealism, and finally the third in 1938 was titled Masters of Popular Paintings. This show featured works not only by French Naïve artists, but also by the Swiss painter Adolf Dietrich, as well as American self-taught artists like John Kane and Horace Pippin. Then in 1943, the MoMA showed a solo exhibition of Morris Hirshfield, whose paintings were esteemed by Piet Mondrian as well as others. Several artists who had immigrated to the US from Europe, like Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and André Breton, were also fascinated by Hirshfield’s paintings, and they presented him in their exhibition First Papers of Surrealism.
Art for Artists
Everywhere, the leading figures of the avant-garde were the ones who championed self-taught artists. The Russian avant-garde artists applauded Nikolai Pirosmanishvili (Niko Pirosmani), while British artists Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood supported Alfred Wallis and welcomed him to their artists’ colony in St Ives, Cornwall. In Germany, artists from the group Junges Rheinland (Young Rhineland), like Otto Dix and Otto Pankok, valued the work of Adalbert Trillhase and Adolf Dietrich. Ludwig Justi, the director of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin, also bought two of Dietrich’s works for the Nationalgalerie in 1930, and he devoted an entire chapter in his book Von Corinth bis Klee – Ein Rundgang durch die Berliner Nationalgalerie (From Corinth to Klee. A Tour of the Berlin Nationalgalerie) to “untrained artists.” However, the Second World War and the consequences of the Nazi era for avant-garde art put a sudden halt to these developments. At the documenta in 1955, Werner Haftmann presented works by Henri Rousseau, Camille Bombois, Louis Vivin, and Séraphine Louis in an attempt to build on this tradition and to demonstrate the “development and interconnectedness of European art.” However, this failed to have an impact on the practice of exhibitions and collections in the following decades.
Her Own Way
Regardless of this development, Charlotte Zander began collecting Naïve Art in the late 1950s. Unique groups of works by all the important representatives of this art can be found in her collection – from Henri Rousseau, Morris Hirshfield, and Adalbert Trillhaase, to Nikifor and Alfred Wallis. In the mid-1960s, she began to enlarge the scope of her collection and to collect Art Brut and Outsider Art by well-known artists, such as Adolf Wölfli, Madge Gill, Carlo Zinelli, and the Gugging Artists. Like the autodidacts, these artists also create non-academic art, the main difference being artists of Art Brut and Outside Art tend to focus more on expressing their inner lives and pursuing visions of their own private worlds.