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Marius de Zayas

Veracruz, Mexico, 1880–Stamford, Conn., 1961

As an artist, journalist, collector, and dealer, Marius de Zayas played a crucial and multifaceted role in the arrival of European modern art in the United States. In collaboration with the photographer Alfred Stieglitz and his New York City gallery, 291, de Zayas organized a number of important exhibitions, including the first North American show of Pablo Picasso’s work (1911) and a display about the influence of African art on European modernism (1914). As a writer for publications that included 291 and Camera Work, de Zayas was a tireless champion of Cubist and post-Cubist art.

De Zayas started as a caricaturist for the two Veracruz newspapers founded by his father, the poet laureate Rafael de Zayas. After his family relocated to New York City in 1907, de Zayas resumed his work as a caricaturist, this time for the New York Evening World. His clever and inventive drawings attracted the attention of Stieglitz, who exhibited them at 291 in 1909 and 1910. The second show included more than one hundred freestanding cardboard caricatures of notable New York denizens. Subsequently, Stieglitz tasked de Zayas with finding significant modern works to exhibit at 291. As a result, de Zayas traveled to Paris in October 1910, visiting museums, galleries, and, notably, the Salon d’Automne where he discovered Cubism. Though the movement initially struck him as the “Tower of Babel of painting,” he was quickly converted. Three months later, de Zayas conducted an in-depth interview with Picasso, the contents of which were published in an important article about the painter’s thoughts on art in the Spanish-language magazine América. By the spring of 1911, de Zayas—with the photographer Edward Steichen and the painter Frank Haviland—had selected forty-nine drawings and watercolors by Picasso to show at 291, an exhibition that effectively introduced Cubism to North America. The impact of Picasso’s work was also decisive for de Zayas’s own innovative art production, which blended caricature with bold graphic abstraction and text.

Traveling frequently between New York and Paris, de Zayas established close relationships with key figures in the European avant-gardes, including Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Guillaume, Francis Picabia, and Tristan Tzara. These connections helped him acquire a significant number of artworks for 291 and for his personal collection, which encompassed the forebears of Cubism, including Paul Cézanne, Honoré Daumier, and Rousseau, and its successors, such as Constantin Brancusi, Arthur Dove, and Picabia.

In October 1915, de Zayas opened the Modern Gallery, which became the De Zayas Gallery in the fall of 1919. The full range of the collector’s artistic interests were on display, not only Cubism but also Song dynasty painting and African sculpture, the latter of which he actively collected and studied. This breadth of his holdings is demonstrated in the works that are now in the Met’s permanent collection, including drawings by Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, and Edgar Degas, and a Cubist work by Diego Rivera.

De Zayas closed his gallery and moved to Europe in 1921, where he organized exhibitions and added important works to his collection, including Picasso’s Woman with a Book, purchased from Ambroise Vollard on December 12, 1924, for 6,000 French francs. He returned to the United States in the 1940s and began writing his memoirs, which were published posthumously under the title, How, When, and Why Modern Art Came to New York.

For more information, see:

De Zayas, Marius. How, When, and Why Modern Art Came to New York, edited by Francis M. Naumann. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996.

---------------------- “The New Art in Paris,” Camera Work, April–July 1911, 29–34.

De Zayas, Marius, and Paul B. Haviland. A Study of the Evolution of Modern Painting. New York: “291,” 1913.

For de Zayas’s bills of sale and correspondence with a variety of artists, see the Marius de Zayas Papers, 1914–1948 at Columbia University Libraries, New York City.

For research collected by Francis M. Naumann for his edition of De Zayas’s How, When and Why Modern Art Came to New York, see “Marius de Zayas Research Collection for How, When and Why Modern Art Came to New York, ca. 1910–1936,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City.

How to cite this entry:
Stark, Trevor, "Marius de Zayas," The Modern Art Index Project (January 2015), Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Woman with a Book, Pablo Picasso  Spanish, Oil on canvas
Pablo Picasso
Paris, spring 1909