“If Apollinaire were still alive, he would have opened the vernissage, accompanied by Braque, Derain and Picasso […]. But Apollinaire is no more […], it is thus Jean Cocteau who will say the Negro mass [sic].” The Carnet des Ateliers conjures up the particular atmosphere of the opening on 10 May 1919, where Paul Guillaume presented the “First exhibition of art nègre and Oceanian art” in the salons of the Devambez Gallery.
It was a huge array of 147 pieces: African masks and idols, wooden fetishes, amulets and ritual items, “the entire manifest dream of the peoples of Gabon, Upper Niger and Dahomey”.
Devambez was proud to be among the first to host an exhibition of the so-called art premier (“primitive” art) that Paul Guillaume was to introduce as a new art form and an essential reference for modern artists including Picasso and Modigliani.
A legendary figure in the twentieth century art market, a refined collector and a master of style, Paul Guillaume found in Devambez a natural partner for his prophetic project to reform public taste and the hierarchy of artistic genres.
Paul Guillaume, Première Exposition d’art nègre et d’art océanien, exhibition catalogue, galerie Devambez, Paris, 10-31 May 1919, Devambez, Paris, 1919