Over three decades, Henry Pearlman combined his love of art, his superb eye, and a keen business sense to form one of the great collections of modern art to be held in private hands. A lifelong New Yorker, Pearlman in 1919 founded the Eastern Cold Storage Company, which made important contributions to marine shipbuilding during World War II. He recalled that his passion for collecting art began one day in the mid-1940s, when he passed the American Art Auction Galleries in New York and glimpsed Chaïm Soutine’s The Village Square. He bought the work, and its dense brushstrokes and brilliant colors graced the wall above his mantelpiece, where, he later wrote, it gave him “a lift” each evening when he returned home from work.
Pearlman built close relationships with a number of dealers in the U.S. and abroad, and by befriending artists directly he was able to secure numerous paintings that today are deemed masterpieces. He relished the hunt for secreted masterworks and was fascinated by the networks of aesthetic influence and personal relationships among artists. His tastes ran from Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec to Modigliani and Soutine, but Cézanne would prove to be his most enduring obsession—his collection includes six paintings and sixteen of the finest extant watercolors by this master.
Since the mid-1970s, the Pearlman collection has been on loan to the Princeton University Art Museum, where generations of scholars, students, and visitors have studied and delighted in these works, thus joining Pearlman in what he described as “a road of adventure both exhilarating and satisfying.” The result of Pearlman’s extraordinary vision—the Henry and Rose Pearlman Collection—was on view in a major international traveling exhibition that showcased 50 modern masterworks from the late 19th through early 20th centuries.