Issue #222  3/4/2016
Noted French Dealer Gérard Lévy Passes Away

By Dr. Nissan N. Perez
Photography Historian, Consultant and Curator

Gérard Lévy
Gérard Lévy

Paris collector, expert and dealer Gérard Lévy passed away on February 11, 2016.

Born in Morocco in 1934, Gérard Lévy lived most of his life in France where he graduated from the Ecole du Louvre.

His first specialty was Chinese and Japanese art, which he dealt with from his stand at the Clignancourt flea market until he opened his gallery in the center of Paris on the left bank.

From the 1960s on he took an interest in photography and over the years became one of the renowned experts on 19th-century French photography and also in Dada and Surrealist photography.

His sharp eye and infallible vision became his trademark supplemented by his elegance and his special humor. Over the years he collaborated closely with other leading photography dealers such as the late Harry Lunn, Hughes Autexier and Francois Braunschweig of Texbraun Gallery and many more.

Most of the leading museums and private collectors were his faithful customers, who relied on his advice and enriched their collections with outstanding images through him. He was one of the pillars of the photography department at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem and contributed greatly to the formation of its collection.

I have known Gérard for 40 years, since 1976, and over the years he became a friend, family, and in fact the older brother I never had.

He was my mentor and teacher at the beginning of my career; from day one he took me under his wing and taught me in a year the knowledge he accumulated in 15 years of field work.

For the last four decades he was a partner and I would say an accomplice in most of the exhibitions I curated. He would always find the right image I would need, or make a comment that would redirect my thoughts.

We were working on two exhibition and book projects, which I will complete in his memory.

In another devastating loss and just as the mourning week was over on Thursday Gérard's wife Sylviane passed away of a cardiac arrest, so on Feb. 21 another funeral was held for her, again in Jerusalem.

They are survived by their daughter Patricia Levy and their twin sons, Daniel and Alexandre Levy.

Other comments from members of the photography community:

CURATOR PIERRE APRAXINE: "I met Gerard Levy close to 40 years ago as I was making my first foray into the field of 19th-century collecting. It was in the late 70s; Sam Wagstaff had mentioned his name as somebody I should see when in Paris, and I had called.

Our first meeting took place at 59 rue de Beaune, in the 7e arrondissement, a street known for its intriguing medley of eccentric antiquarians. The Gerard Levy Gallery specialized in alluring "chinoiserie". Its owner, a dapper Frenchman of my age, but of infinitely greater experience, graciously entertained me with small talk as we passed into an inner chamber populated with oriental bronzes, porcelain and netsuke. After another round of polite exchanges, a curtain was parted, a door opened, and I was invited to proceed into a low ceiling room filled with books, folders and files, organized around a large table and illuminated by a low hanging lamp.

Stepping out of the shadows was François Lepage, Gerard’s associate for photography and the scholar in residence. In perfect contrast to Gerard’s essentially urbane nature--an enthusiast, extrovert, and full of humor--François was the perfect image of the 19th-century connoisseur, with his studious and scholarly mien. François would thoroughly lecture me about the material I was about to see. Finally, the expected moment did arrive: the folders lay open and the marvels stood revealed to my admiration…and lust. The scene reminded me of a masonic initiation: François, the officiant, Gerard, the gate keeper and the high priest. A visit to an opium den could not have been more thrilling! Right there, I was convinced.

Countless meetings were to follow as cordial relations soon turned into meaningful friendships. And the role Gerard played in the building of the Gilman collection now at the Metropolitan Museum, is history.

As the years went by, and my buying sprees subsided, Gerard and I remained in contact. My regular visits to France always started with a phone call to Gerard. Without fail he would invite me for lunch at “Le Bistro de Paris” where he had his table.

We would exchange the usual gossip about the current exhibitions, the auctions and the competition, but he would also talk about his desire to reconnect with his Jewish past, his studies in Hebrew, his interest in Israel and the Jerusalem Museum. I, in turn, would report on my latest incursions in some eccentric corner of the photographic culture such as the the underappreciated work of the countess de Castiglione or the multisided role of the camera in probing the occult.

His generosity in sharing his sources and knowledge was heartwarming. His genuine interest in my projects reassured me as to the seriousness of the undertaking. And his generosity was there at life’s difficult moments, when in the late 80’s and early 90’s we witnessed the passing of so many friends.

Every Xmas season I would receive Gerard’s good wishes on the back of a spirited and affectionate postcard. I knew that lately his health had been shaky and I was unable to see him this past summer. I was somehow reassured when a few weeks ago his card arrived. I will miss him enormously.

PARIS GALLERIST FRANCOISE PAVIOT: "When one was such a personality, it is impossible to disappear completely. Gerard leaves us all with many memories; in particular, for me, that of all the exhibitions where he was a lender, which was a testimony to the quality and the accuracy of his eye."

COLLECTOR LEONARD WALLE: "I have fond memories of my first meeting with Gerard in 2005 and subsequent visits to Paris when we would go to a favorite restaurant near his gallery and discuss photography over lunch and a glass of wine. During our first meeting he told me that he had a special fondness for Americans because if it had not been for them during World War II, he would not have survived. He also told me that two of his sons lived in America, one in NY and the other in California.

"I gave him a copy of the book, Secrets of the Dark Chamber, which he insisted I inscribe, telling me his personal library was promised to the Israel Museum of Photography.

"Gerard Levy was very generous with the time he spent with me and a very, very knowledgeable man. Each year we exchanged New Year's good wishes, Gerard with a photo reproduction from his extensive collection and I with one or two copy photos of special acquisitions made over the past year. In fact last Thursday (February 11) I sent him a card with a two copy prints I thought he would enjoy seeing. Now I can only hope they encountered his spirit on their flight to Paris. I was quietly hoping that he might attend this year's Daguerreian Society meeting that is being planned for NYC."

DIRECTRICE, JEU DE PAUME, MARTA GILI: "Gerard was very active at Jeu de Paume General Assembly. We are going to miss his enthusiasm and dynamism. He has also been very generous with us, lending, on several occasions, postal cards and photographs from his tremendous and rich collection. My team and myself will always remind his kindness and friendship. We will keep his memory in our hearts forever."

EXPERT, COLLECTOR, HISTORIAN SERGE KAKOU: "If there is one encounter I would pick out by which to remember him, it is one of the first times I met him, or in any case the first time we did business together. It was around 1985. I was living in the South of France after having been in New Caledonia. When coming to Paris one time, I contacted him to ask if he had any New Caledonian photography. He did...a wonderful album. The price was higher than what I could pay right then, but Gérard Lévy offered to let me leave with it and pay when I could. I'll always be grateful to him to have trusted me like that. The album stayed in my collection for over 25 years, and is now in the Archives of New Caledonia."

FRENCH PHOTOGRAPHY DEALER PHILIPPE DOUBLET: "What sad news. Gerard was a man I greatly appreciated, and I will miss him terribly. The last time I saw him was here in Biarritz. We had lunch together. My wife, who did not know him, had a good laugh listening to his stories. Then he came with me and I showed him some works of photographers whom he did not know. I lost a true friend."

EXPERT GREGORY LEROY: "We old photographs aficionados owe him a lot. And I'll miss a friend and a gentleman."