The American finance lawyer John Quinn was one of the most important collectors of modern and avant-garde art of his generation. A well-known figure in New York’s progressive art circles, he spearheaded projects that promoted vanguard artists.
Between 1911 and 1924, Quinn assembled a collection of approximately 2,500 paintings, works on paper, and sculptures by more than 150 European and American artists, which he displayed at his Central Park West apartment. He frequently traveled to Paris and bought works from prominent French dealers, including Ambroise Vollard. In New York, Quinn frequented Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery 291, as well as Bourgeois Galleries, Carroll Galleries, Coady Gallery, and M. Knoedler and Company. His collection reflected many different artistic movements, including Impressionism, post-Impressionism, Cubism, Vorticism, and Synchronism, with works by Constantin Brancusi, Paul Cézanne, Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Seurat. His Cubist holdings included paintings by Georges Braque, Albert Gleizes, Juan Gris, Picasso, Diego Rivera, and sculptures by Raymond Duchamp-Villon. Quinn also collected books and manuscripts by modern and contemporary writers.
Among his friends and acquaintances were Lillie P. Bliss (Lizzie Plummer Bliss), Arthur B. Davis, Albert Eugene Gallatin, Walt Kuhn, Agnes Elizabeth Ernst Meyer, Walter Pach, and Marius de Zayas. As an attorney, Quinn often took on art-related cases. He served as legal counsel for the landmark 1913 Armory Show, for which he successfully lobbied revisions of the tariff laws on modern art imported from Europe. He also lent works to that show and other exhibitions, including the first display dedicated to Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in May 1921.
After his death at age fifty-four, Quinn’s collection was inherited by his sister, Julia Quinn Anderson. Only a handful of paintings were bequeathed to museums. Prior to its dispersal through private sales and public auctions (at Hôtel Drouot in October 1926 and the American Art Association, New York, in February 1927), a memorial exhibition was held at the New York Art Center in January 1926. Among those who purchased works from the Quinn collection were Henri Bing (Galerie Bing and Cie), Claribel and Etta Cone, Paul Guillaume, Pierre Matisse (Pierre Matisse Gallery), Baron Napoléon Gourgaud, Paul Rosenberg (who purchased 52 Picassos), Marie Sterner (Marie Sterner Gallery), and Erhard Weyhe (Weyhe Gallery).
For more information, see
John Quinn, 1870–1925: Collection of Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, and Sculpture
. Huntington, NY: Pidgeon Hill Press, 1926.
Reid, B. L. The Man from New York: John Quinn and His Friends. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Zilczer, Judith. The Noble Buyer: John Quinn, Patron of the Avant-Garde. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution Press, 1978.
———. “The Dispersal of the John Quinn Collection.” Archives of American Art Journal 30 (1990): 1–4, 35–40.
The John Quinn Papers at housed at the New York Public Library, Archives and Manuscripts. A finding guide is available online.