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Why the Berlin National Gallery didn't want Schinkel's children

An academic career, an art history career that was as high as possible, was aspired to.

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Why the Berlin National Gallery didn't want Schinkel's children

An academic career, an art history career that was as high as possible, was aspired to. In the museum, in a public collection. There was actually no doubt about it. But things turned out differently. Angelika Arnoldi, a student of art history from the Upper Bavarian Inn Valley, discovered her tendency to convince potential buyers of the quality of a work of art during her practical stays in Paris and New York with the legendary thoroughbred art dealer Serge Sabarsky. Most importantly, she discovered her talent.

Returning to Munich, Angelika Arnoldi got her future husband Bruce Livie interested. The American from Baltimore, Yale and Harvard graduate, a representative of the casual intellectual type from the best circles with a bow tie, welted shoes, great manners, Scottish roots and a DAAD scholarship in Munich, actually gave up his academic career for the art trade .

At the end of 1972 the two opened their gallery on Maximilianstrasse. The magnificent boulevard, today a promenade with the eternally bland flagship stores of international noble designers, was then the hotspot of the gallery scene, i.e. contemporary art. Jahn, Thomas, Friedrich, they and all the other gallery owners have long since fled.

The two newcomers Arnoldi-Livie, then 23 and 26 years old, courageous and self-confident, endowed with the dash of blessed naivety necessary for such undertakings, placed their programmatically still somewhat undecided art trade in between. In their first exhibition, on one of the upper floors behind a Bavarian-bourgeois façade, they showed works on paper by Gustav Klimt. In the second they offered works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Oskar Schlemmer.

Step by step, they learned the lessons that were essential for success in the art trade. One of the first: In addition to all efforts, luck plays a prominent role. One day, unannounced, trustees from the New York Museum of Modern Art showed up at the door and, in 1973, laid the tiny foundation stone for their gallery to gain transatlantic attention. The second, equally important lesson followed quickly: The constant effort to make discoveries and to increase one's reputation with the unexpected can suddenly turn into blind zeal Connoisseurs presented, waved it off - bitter lesson.

On the other hand, Bruce Livie's great museum tour through the United States was extremely fruitful. He mapped the diverse aspects of the museum landscape, classified the collections and their historical focal points, and established contacts. And he profited, although still young, stylishly as a compatriot. Art historical knowledge and the willingness to continuously learn new things gave him the necessary respect. To this day, Livie acts according to his maxim that trade and research belong together: "We live from what we know".

The Arnoldi livies soon sharpened the company's profile. They traded in old master works, the focus was on German Romanticism through to Impressionism. French and German hand drawing became a specialty and also an affair of the heart. Experience, a good eye and the avoidance of hasty judgments are the basis for the meticulous attribution and dating of a sheet.

International renown was not lacking, the participation in the Tefaf, the queen of all art fairs in Maastricht, and the Salon du Dessin, the demanding and recognized special fair in Paris, did the rest. That's where the important, the powerful collectors gather, that's where the curators and trustees make the pilgrimage, where the best dealer competitors exhibit. A good strategy, so you don't get bogged down in a whirlpool of worldwide, more or less promising trade fair participations.

Over the course of five decades, the focus had continuously shifted overseas. In 1983 Arnoldi-Livie sold Dürer's pen and ink drawing The Good Thief to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The department for old master drawings had just been set up there. Schinkel's portraits of his children, a triptych from 1817, has been hanging in the St. Louis Museum of Art in Missouri since 1995, instead of – which is not entirely understandable – in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin.

The two art dealers were not always able to understand the considerations of the curators, although they had a great deal of intuition and perseverance for the complex paths of museum decision-making. Menzel's “Sunday Afternoon in the Tuileries Garden”, for example, once hung in Dresden, but the Albertinum refused to accept the logic of buying it back. Since 2006 the painting has received the attention it deserves alongside Monet's Tuileries motif in London's National Gallery.

In 1983, Livie founded the circle of friends of the Central Institute for Art History in Munich based on the Anglo-Saxon model and led it until 2016. The mostly financially very well-endowed members enjoyed high-quality excursions. When asked why family and trade were not completely relocated to the USA, Angelika Arnoldi-Livie explains that this was always a topic of debate. Since 1988, however, the cozy and representative gallery rooms with a view of the courtyard garden had been set up and had become a permanent contact point for collectors and curators. And would it really have been a good idea to let the two sons grow up in New York?

Of course, there have also been difficult phases in the course of the company's many years of history. But as Angelika Arnoldi-Livie pragmatically states, general economic crises were more beneficial: many a collector had to sell art. And for outstanding works of museum quality, sooner or later a buyer was always found.

In any case, Bruce Livie always advocated having several irons in the fire with his usual composure. Bottlenecks then never became threatening. The sale of Lovis Corinth's sea of ​​flowers "Weißer Flieder", which was passed on to a private collection in 2020, proves that the slow-motion atmosphere of the pandemic was not to the detriment of the art trade.

Both sons followed an art-by-no-case-path into professional life. Caspar, the older one, had decided: "Never go into the art trade and never run a company with your wife." Merging work and family can be exhausting. He studied mechanical engineering and climbed the unsatisfactory career ladder in a Swiss chemical company. He remained connected to art over the years, accompanied his parents to Tefaf, where he promptly met his future wife Marie - and together with her opened the Livie Gallery for contemporary art in the heart of Zurich in 2018.

While the parents are now taking it easy, the young Livies are looking forward to performing with them. At the upcoming Salon du Dessin in Paris (March 22 to 27, 2023) they will use works on paper by artists from both programs to build up a field of tension that spans centuries and quite casually make a strong commitment to art as the center of their lives.

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