" Daniel Cordier: la peinture est un secret "

19 May - 30 July 2022

Daniel Cordier
Painting Is a Secret

With works by:
Gianfranco Baruchello (IT, 1924)
Pierre Bettencourt (FR, 1917–2006)
Julius Bissier (DE, 1893–1965)
Aristide Caillaud (FR, 1902–1990)
Dado (ME, 1933–2010)
Eugène Gabritschevsky (RU, 1893–1979)
Oyvind Fahlström (BR, 1928–1976)
Michel Lablais (FR, 1925–2017)
Roberto Matta (CL, 1911–2002)
Bernard Réquichot (FR, 1929–1961)
Bernard Schultze (DE, 1915–2005)
Ursula Schultze-Bluhm (DE, 1921–1999)
Kopac Slavsko (HR, 1913–1995)
Claude Viseux (FR, 1927–2008)


“The relationships that I maintained for forty-five years with works of art belong more to my private life than my public life. To me, they are part of the secret of the depths.”
Daniel Cordier, letter to Alfred Pacquement, 1989

A former resistance fighter, secretary to Jean Moulin, one of the most active Parisian gallerists of the post-war period, a feverish collector, a great art lover and friend of artists, a major donor and patron of the Musée national d’art moderne, a historian, and the author of many books, Daniel Cordier died at the age of 100 on 20 December 2020. Today, he leaves an exceptional legacy: the singularity of his intellectual career and the immense collection that he constituted over the years have shaped the history of the art of the latter half of the twentieth century.

Daniel Cordier was born in Bordeaux into a family of wealthy traders. Maurrassian in his youth, an activist with Action Française, he refused the collaboration of Maréchal Pétain and was one of the first to enlist alongside General de Gaulle in the Resistance against Nazism. In 1943, he was elected as secretary to Jean Moulin, who was at that time operating covertly at a modern-art gallery in Nice, and he introduced him to art. Thanks to Moulin, he discovered Delacroix, Renoir, Picasso, Soutine, and many other artists. After the Liberation, Daniel Cordier retired from politics and devoted himself to painting for several years. Very soon, he also started to acquire numerous canvases, by the likes of Jean Dewasne, Nicolas de Staël, then Roberto Matta, Hans Hartung, Chaïm Soutine, and Georges Braque. He became, in his own words, “collector and painter”.

In 1956, he opened his first gallery in the eighth arrondissement of Paris. His friendship with Henri Michaux and Jean Dubuffet honed his gaze and forged his taste. He defended an original corpus and helped familiarise the public with the work of artists who were often unknown and marginal, including Bernard Réquichot, Oyvind Fahlström, Enrico Baj, Bernard Schultze, Ursula Schultze-Bluhm, Fred Deux, Eugène Gabritschevsky, Pierre Bettencourt, Dado, and Hans Bellmer. Close to the surrealists, he gave carte blanche to André Breton at his gallery in 1959. He was also one of the first dealers to show works by Americans such as Louise Nevelson, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns in France. His attraction to the United States took him to New York, where he opened a second gallery. But in 1964 he announced that he wanted to “take leave”, to definitively close his gallery and devote himself to his passion for “living art”, far from the market, its constraints, and the financial crisis that had befallen it. He started his great task of research and historical veracity regarding Jean Moulin and the war years.

In 1973, he entered the acquisitions commission of the Musée national d'art moderne. Thus began his career as a major patron and militant donor. For years, he bought artworks to enrich the collections of the Centre Pompidou. In the 1970s, he acquired for instance works by Simon Hantaï, Claude Viallat, François Rouan, Jean-Michel Meurice, Jean-Pierre Raynaud, Jean Le Gac, or Titus Carmel. In total, Daniel Cordier gave 1 356 artworks to the Centre Pompidou, most of which are currently on long-term loan to the musée des Abattoirs de Toulouse. Several tribute exhibitions have been dedicated to him. At the same time, he was also amassing a wonderful and disparate collection of objects: Chinese picture stones, roots, bones, fetishes, totems, silex, wedding coins from Zaire, masks, precious stones…

What he didn’t give to the museum, Daniel Cordier conserved for his private passion. Sotheby’s auction house then held two major sales of works from the collection. In 2022, the Christophe Gaillard gallery succeeded in the ambitious project of acquiring what subsisted of this rare ensemble, thus pursuing its self-appointed mission to allow contemporary audiences to rediscover the works of historical artists.

Comprising over two thousand elements, works from the Cordier collection will be presented at the gallery for the next two years, alongside solo exhibitions dedicated to Bernard Réquichot, Bernard Schultze, Ursula Schultze-Bluhm, Eugène Gabritschevsky, Dado, or Pierre Bettencourt… They will afford the opportunity to return to the extraordinary figure of the man who brought them together and to try to understand the coherency of his taste for an art that has often been described as organic, erotic, or primitive, notably influenced by surrealism and art brut. Reflecting the sensitivity and plurality of Daniel Cordier’s choices, this first collective exhibition inaugurates a cycle: it draws us into the gallerist and collector’s secret vale.