Daniel Tzanck was a Paris-based collector, enthusiast of modern art, and dentist. If his name is familiar within the history of European avant-garde art, it is primarily due to Marcel Duchamp, who involved Tzanck in one of his most Dadaistic works of art, the Tzanck Check (1919; Collection Arturo Schwarz, Milan, Promised gift to the Israel Museum, Jerusalem). Tzanck was well known for showing his support for struggling young artists by accepting works of art in lieu of payment for his dental services. Having visited Tzanck for dental work, Duchamp chose to pay his bill of $115 with a check, slightly bigger than life-size, entirely hand-drawn and hand-written. That this forged document presented as a work of art was gladly accepted by the dentist, who was friends with the Duchamp family, testifies to Tzanck’s avid support for the most adventurous modern artists. Years later, he sold the check back to Duchamp for an amount much higher than the cost of the dentistry.
Tzanck’s parents had emigrated in the 1880s from Georgia to Paris, where his father opened a factory that produced kefir, a carbonated water with medicinal properties. From 1912, Tzanck’s elder brother Arnault Tzanck, a doctor, became friends with the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the writer Henri-Pierre Roché, and romantically linked to the painter Marie Laurencin, introducing the brothers to the most advanced literary and artistic scene in Paris. Peter Read’s research has shown that Tzanck became closely involved with the circle around Apollinaire and in the early 1910s began to collect works by Fauvists such as André Derain, Raoul Dufy, and Kees van Dongen. In 1923, Tzanck became the co-founder of the SAC, or Société des Amateurs d’art et des Collectionneurs (Society of Art Aficionados and Collectors). That year, through the SAC he organized an exhibition with works by Jean Crotti, Suzanne Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Picasso, and others, which inaugurated a regular salon running into the 1930s that Tzanck called with typical humor the Salon de la Folle Enchère (Salon of Insane Birds). As a member of the SAC, Tzanck often wrote for their bulletin and in 1925 he presciently proposed that Paris should found a museum of modern art (or a museum of living artists), noting with regret that “one has to travel to Moscow to admire a representative collection of the most recent French art.”
Tzanck was among the most important purchasers of works of art from the collection and gallery stock of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, which had been sequestered during World War I by the French government. At these sales (1921–23), Tzanck bought many works by Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, and Maurice de Vlaminck. Although he possessed modest means, he focused his collecting on recent works by living artists, and a sale of selections of his collection from 1949 at the Hôtel Drouot shows his adventurous tastes, running from Fauvism and Expressionism to Cubism and Surrealism. Indeed, although he is less known today, Tzanck was named by the critic Maurice Raynal in 1927 as one of the most important collectors of modern art, to be classed beside Gertrude Stein and Paul and Léonce Rosenberg.
For more information, see
Raynal. Maurice. Anthologie de la peinture en France de 1906 à nos jours. Paris: Editions Montaigne, 1927.
Read, Peter. “Gestes et opinions du Docteur Tzanck, defenseur de l’art moderne, virtuose de l’art dentaire, ami de Guillaume Apollinaire.” Que Vlo-Ve? series 6, n. 20 (October–December 1986): 3-22.
Tableaux Moderne provenant de la collection de Daniel Tzanck...
, Sale cat. Hôtel Drouot, Paris. May 23, 1949.