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The Perils and Perks of Trading Art Overseas: Goupil’s New York Branch

Goupil & Cie, originally established as Rittner & Goupil in Paris in 1829, was one of the most prominent print and art dealers of the nineteenth century. Initially, the activities of the firm consisted of reproducing, publishing, and selling prints in Paris. Later, the directors diversified to also deal in original artworks. Goupil’s operations coincided with a turning point in the history of art, which marked the shift from traditional patronage of the arts—church, royalty, aristocracy, and state—to a market system made possible by an increasingly rich and powerful bourgeoisie. Goupil was one of the first dealers to engage in such a system, which in turn facilitated its ambitions of internationalization. After expanding first to London in 1842, the firm opened a New York branch in 1848 as Goupil & Co. and went on to develop an extensive network of branches and partnerships across Europe, the United States, the Ottoman Empire, and as far as Australia. While international expansion had a number of advantages—including higher growth potential by accessing a larger pool of clients—uncertain economic outlook, as well as cultural and regulatory differences, created a challenging scenario. Using Goupil’s New York branch as a case study, this article will investigate the strategy Goupil & Cie and its associates implemented to successfully balance the perks and perils of operating a business remotely.

As an addition to the numerous articles by DeCourcy E. McIntosh, which revealed for the first time the influence of the French dealer on the American market, this paper will explore in detail the obstacles to, and uncertainties in, creating and keeping a presence in the art market across the Atlantic in the mid-nineteenth century. Since 2012, with the acquisition by the Getty Research Institute of the archival material of the Knoedler Gallery, successors of Goupil & Co. in New York in 1857, it has now become possible to also reconsider some aspects of a business relationship that dominated the market for European art in America for half a century and secured the legacy of Goupil in this country.