Sidney Janis; Innovative and Influential Art Dealer


Sidney Janis, one of America’s most innovative and influential art dealers, died Thursday morning at his home in New York City. He was 93.

Founder of the Sidney Janis Gallery on Manhattan’s East 57th Street, Janis once was described by Alfred H. Barr, first director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, as “the most brilliant new dealer, in terms of business acumen, to have appeared in New York” since World War II. He was among the leading dealers during the period when New York City became the art capital of the world.

Janis was a key player in the rise to fame during the 1940s and ‘50s of such Abstract Expressionists as Jackson Pollock, Willem DeKooning, Mark Rothko and Arshile Gorky--artists whose individual works now sell for millions of dollars. Janis was so important to the movement that when he began dealing in Pop Art in the 1960s, some of the Abstract artists felt betrayed.


Active on the advisory committee of the Museum of Modern Art for nearly five decades, Janis also headed a committee that brought to America one of Picasso’s most famous works--”The Guernica”--which depicts the destruction of a hamlet in northern Spain that was used for target practice by Hitler’s troops in 1937. The work remained in the United States until about 10 years ago, when it was returned to the Spanish government.

Janis, with his wife, Harriet, also wrote several books, including a well-known work on Picasso, whom the couple counted among their many friends.

Janis opened his gallery in 1948 at age 52, after having spent many years as a leading collector and author of books and magazine articles on modern art, according to his son Conrad, who now runs the gallery with his brother, Carroll.

But Janis was impressing the art world with his private collection more than a decade before the gallery opened. In 1934, the collection included Henri Rousseau’s big canvas “The Dream,” which Janis sold to Nelson Rockefeller for more than $100,000, a hefty price for the time. Rockefeller then gave the masterpiece to the Museum of Modern Art.

Janis also was famous for his exhibitions and showings of the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, said Conrad Janis, who remembers the family having an art collection “from the time I was a kid.”

Over the years, Janis and his wife “formed one of the great collections of 20th-Century paintings,” his son said. In 1967, that impressive collection--103 paintings in all--was given to the museum, where a room is now named for Janis.

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1896, Janis served in the Navy during World War I, and was one of its youngest pilots. At a Greenwich Village party held to usher in the year 1925, Janis met his future wife, the former Harriet Grossman. She spotted Janis in his raccoon coat and immediately decided that he was not her type. But the two were married within a year.

Together, they formed first a vaudeville circuit dance team before becoming one of the premier couples in the art world. Along the way, Janis took a brief sojourn into the shirt-making business.

Conrad Janis said his father had three passions--art, dancing and tennis--”and he maintained them until he was 91.” The younger Janis noted that, at his father’s 80th birthday party, which was held at the museum, Janis danced the mambo. At his 90th birthday party, Janis danced the tango, his son said.

In addition to his sons, Janis is survived by a sister, Carolyn Raport, of Laguna Hills; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A private funeral service will be held Sunday in New York. Conrad Janis said a larger memorial service will be held later.