About Henry Pearlman
Daniel Edelman and Jeffrey Scheuer remember their grandfather, Henry Pearlman:
Henry Pearlman, the Man:
“Earthy” is how I would describe my grandfather. Henry Pearlman was genuine and came over that way. There was no pretense about him. He was self-educated, certainly, in the art world—so for me there was an interesting contrast between a very human and in some ways unsophisticated man, whom I related to, and the collector whom I also saw at home, poring over books about art and pictures of artwork. There was even a slight disconnect between those two sides of him, but they only made him more interesting to me. He started collecting during World War II, seemingly out of the blue, although it was before I was born, so I am not precisely sure of the dates. But it seemed a rather extraordinary moment in the trajectory of his life. He saw a painting in a gallery on Madison Avenue, as he described it in the Reminiscences, and something clicked and opened up a whole new dimension in his life.
Not a lot of us know very much about his life as a collector. I think he kept that to himself. [Even] Rose did a fair amount of traveling with Henry at times in their life, but he also did a lot on his own. His relationships with dealers, with friends of artists, were private, in a way. I could never find anybody who went to an auction with him. I think my father may have once been dragged along to an auction but doesn’t have a great memory of it. The auction environment was not what interested Henry. I don’t think he wanted to be in the room with the people competing for art. Rose has said that the harder something was to get, the more he valued it. She was talking about her, but I think that applied to art. I think if something, a piece, was unavailable, he wanted it that much more. And I don’t think he was guided by commercial value. I don’t think he was guided by other people’s opinions. He had advisors around him. He worked with some experts. He had friends with the American Archives who gave him advice. But I think he went after the things that were hard to get and that other people did not necessarily want. When you look at some of the works . . His most exciting purchase was the Van Gogh by far. I am not sure that means that it was his favorite image in the collection, but the fact that it was a rediscovered Van Gogh and that he got in there because of connections he had before anybody else did, and he was able to buy it before the other Van Gogh collectors even knew about it—that was his pride. It was the hunt and the purchase and the process as much as what he ended up buying.
On Living with Modern Art:
What I do remember. My father, who worked with Henry—they had a business together. When we had school holidays, sometimes we would accompany my father to work, and if he had an appointment with Henry in the city we would go together and have lunch with him. And I distinctly remember one of the offices of Eastern Cold Storage—I don’t know which one it was—that Henry’s office was a very dark paneled room. It had windows, but it did not feel as if any light came in the windows—and all of the Cézanne watercolors were on those walls of his own room. As a lot of things with Henry, I don’t know whether he knew enough to put them in a dark room to protect them or whether those were the things he wanted around him. He probably spent more time in that office than anywhere else in his life. Those may have been his favorite works, or he may have actually known that that would protect them from damage from light, because to this day they are some of the most bright and brilliant of the watercolors in existence. They were kept in almost museum standards, whether he knew or not that that was what he was doing.
A Visceral Connection to Art:
Our connection over art was visceral, not intellectual. At some point early in my life, I remember, I was a stamp collector for a few years. One of my stamps was the French stamp of Cézanne’s The Card Players. Even at age ten or eleven, that stamp and that picture had an iconic power over me. I think I knew by that time that my grandfather had some Cézannes in his collection, but that’s all I knew. The stamp somehow became a totem for me. As I grew older, I became a pipe smoker and a card player myself. It is a very contemplative, peaceful image that somehow gave me pleasure in ways I couldn’t explain. Maybe what I got from Henry was a sense of the mystery of art. Sometimes you don’t have to explain it or understand why it pleases you. So the stamp was an emblem for me of my relationship to art through Henry.