Gratz Gallery on The Philadelphia Show and Adapting to Social Distancing

James Ardis
Published on
Colorfield by Leonard Nelson. Photo courtesy of Gratz Gallery.
Colorfield by Leonard Nelson. Photo courtesy of Gratz Gallery.

How are galleries adjusting in the age of social distancing? Auction Daily had the opportunity to discuss this with Paul Gratz, owner and head conservator of Gratz Gallery. The gallery is currently participating in the Spring AFA online show and The Philadelphia Show, as well as preparing for other events later this year.

Auction Daily: It feels like a year since we last spoke with you, but really it’s been about two months. Can you briefly remind our readers of your gallery’s background and its primary services?

Paul Gratz, owner and head conservator of Gratz Gallery: Thank you very much for having us back. Gratz Gallery opened its doors in the summer of 2000 in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and in the fall of 2014, the gallery and studio moved to its current home on the outskirts of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where our clients can view all of our current inventory throughout two gallery spaces. We also have our conservation studio space on premises where our staff works on art and frame restoration. It is of no coincidence that both towns have close ties to the Pennsylvania Impressionists, being the birthplace of the movement as well as the home to the James A. Michener Art Museum and its world-class Pennsylvania Impressionism collection.

Gratz Gallery offers an extensive collection of 18th, 19th, and 20th-century paintings. The gallery has focused mainly on the Pennsylvania Impressionists, the Philadelphia Ten, painters from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and painters from the Hudson River School. This allows us to offer fine American paintings spanning in style from the traditional to the modern, from Impressionism to Abstraction. Additionally, Gratz Gallery and Conservation Studio holds close to 40 years of experience in art restoration. Paul Gratz started his career as a conservator in 1982. Our clients include museums, universities, churches, historical societies, and private collectors. We are a full-service studio, offering appraisals, fine art and frame restoration and conservation.

Auction Daily: Is Gratz Gallery still open by appointment only? And how has the gallery adjusted to building relationships with collectors primarily through email and phone calls?

Gratz: In light of the ongoing COVID-19 health concerns, we had to close our gallery’s physical doors at the beginning of April alongside many of our colleagues and fellow gallery owners. But we are fortunate to have been able to stay connected to our clients through phone, email, and online platforms such as Incollect and AskArt. We have remained “open” for questions and inquiries from our collectors who continue to follow their interest in the purchase of fine art paintings and regularly stay in touch with us.

As we continue to buy and offer Fine American paintings, we have reached out directly to our clients when a particular painting of interest comes to our gallery. We have also remained visible with our current inventory on social media, direct marketing, print ads, as well as keeping current with our website. We have found a stronger online presence to be very important these days, so we are currently not only participating in The Philadelphia Show, being hosted by Incollect, but also in the Spring AFA online show, powered by Antiques & Fine Art Magazine and Incollect.

Auction Daily: We were excited to see Gratz Gallery featured in The Philadelphia Show, hosted entirely online through Incollect. The show began on May 14th and will end on May 28th. Tell us more about the event.

Gratz: Since their inaugural show in 1962, The Philadelphia Show has showcased America’s preeminent dealers of fine art and antiques from the colonial to the contemporary. This year’s 58th annual show has partnered with the online art selling platform Incollect to bring the same dynamic selection of fine art, antiques, and decorative arts to a virtual platform for an even broader audience of collectors and art enthusiasts. In the past, the show has been presented at various sites throughout the city of Philadelphia, most recently at their home in the city’s Naval Shipyard, which draws an ardent crowd of art lovers to the event.

Our participation in The Philadelphia Show is a first for us, and even though the current health concerns have made it necessary to move to a virtual presence, we are honored to be part of the show with an exciting selection of fine paintings from our gallery. A selection that covers a broad variety from Bucks County painters like Daniel Garber, New England painters like Emile Gruppe, Pennsylvania Academy artists like Hugh Breckenridge, as well as American painters like Guy Carlton Wiggins and Charles Courtney Curran.

Lunar Encounter with a Child by Leon Kelly. Photo by Gratz Gallery.
Lunar Encounter with a Child by Leon Kelly. Photo by Gratz Gallery.

Auction Daily: Gratz Gallery will offer several works by Leon Kelly and Leonard L. Nelson as part of The Philadelphia Show. What should collectors interested in those artists keep in mind about these pieces?

Gratz: Because the gallery focuses heavily on artists from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, we found it important to include a few remarkable examples from our collections of those two Academy students in The Philadelphia Show. Both artists are deeply connected to the city of Philadelphia, and each in their own right has earned their place in the timeline of recognized importance.

Leon Kelly (1901 – 1982) was a student and teacher at the Academy, studying under controversial teacher and modernist Arthur B. Carles who greatly impacted and influenced Kelly’s career and painting style. Having been awarded the prestigious Cresson Traveling Fellowship, he was able to study in Europe and gained much recognition in the Paris art world. His striking modernist, surrealist, cubist, and abstract paintings in figure genre, landscapes, and still lives have been widely exhibited throughout the United States, including Philadelphia and New York and can be found in numerous national and international, permanent collections, including but not limited to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the 1940s, Julian Levy, the Surrealist dealer, handled Kelly’s work in New York City, and he was a regular exhibitor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art Annuals. Leon Kelly taught at the Academy from 1961 – 1973 and died at age 81, living in isolation on an island off the coast of New Jersey.

Leonard Nelson (1912 – 1993) was a student at the Academy, a recipient of the William Emlen Cresson award in 1939, taught at the Moore College of Art for 30 years, and became the leader of the Philadelphia School of Art. He was a dedicated teacher, painter, sculptor, and printmaker. He was part of that first generation of American abstract expressionists, such as Pollock, DeKooning, and Rothko. Nelson developed various painting styles over his long career, including his earlier Abstract Expressionist period that later morphed into his signature Colorfield style. Leonard Nelson’s art was ahead of his time and has often been called a bridge between Modernism and Abstract Expressionism. It was during the 50s and 60s that he perfected his vision of landscape Colorfield painting, the earliest representation of the Philadelphia School of Art. Colorfield painting became a term used for organic, sensuous, and joyous abstract painting in the 1960s. We have included an extraordinary example of his Colorfield work in our selection for the show, called Colorfield #388. The hallmark of Leonard Nelson’s work is color, his luminous canvases of the 1970s and 1980s were described by art historian Sam Hunter in his 2001 text Leonard Nelson: A Life in Art, as “pathbreaking”. In these, luminescence and heavy impasto, applied layer after layer over months and even years, resulted in some of his most celebrated works. Throughout his career, Nelson exhibited in 65 one-man shows in New York and Philadelphia and is represented in permanent collection throughout the country, including The Museum of Modern Art and The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

As you see, there is much noteworthy information to share about these important Philadelphia artists, and it feels only appropriate to include them, their art, and their stories in The Philadelphia Show. Their art and teachings are as relevant as ever, their unique uses of color, form, and feeling are still vibrant and timeless.

Extensive painting conservation. Photo by Gratz Gallery & Conservation Studio.
Extensive painting conservation. Photo by Gratz Gallery & Conservation Studio.

Auction Daily: Last time we spoke, we had a great discussion about your conservation services. How, if at all, has social distancing changed how you handle this service, including consultations?

Gratz: We are very fortunate to be able to continue our work in art restoration and conservation. Because we work with large organizations like museums as well as individual collectors, we are able to dedicate this time to work on large collections that we currently have in our care, returning work safely when completed, but also being able to store the finished artwork until needed by our clients. We continue to advise and consult whenever possible via telephone and email, we also continue to receive and ship out conservation work and are able to make special appointments and arrangements for safe drop off and pick up. Our facility allows for an appropriate and safe work environment during these times, and we are fortunate to be able to tend to our customer’s conservation needs without any personal interaction. We are certainly looking forward to opening our physical doors as soon as possible, always keeping social distancing and our client’s safety first.

Auction Daily: Tell our readers what they have to look forward to from Gratz Gallery for the rest of the year. 

Gratz: As a gallery and art dealer, we are continuously evolving and adjusting to current trends in the art world. We have broadened our online presence, have increased advertising for buying and selling individual paintings and whole collections, and are very actively placing paintings with our collectors. These are uncertain times, but if the future allows, we are continuing our participation with the AFA online shows with Incollect in the summer, fall, and winter. We are also planning our own online auction for later this year, as well as our highly anticipated “Appraisal Day”. This event has been hosted by us for many years, and although the execution of it may look a bit different this year, keeping social distancing in mind, we are hoping to offer again a day where our community is invited to bring a treasured piece of artwork to us for a free evaluation and verbal appraisal. This event would not come until later in the year and details will be announced on our website and social media outlets. We also have a newsletter that keeps our clients up to date, you can sign up for this on our website at www.gratzgallery.com.