Published: April 23, 2002
By Carol Sims
WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS. – Norman S. Hirschl, born in 1915, died on Tuesday, April 2, at age 86 at his home in Williamstown. A long-time Massachusetts resident, Hirschl had built a house in West Stockbridge 40 years ago, and lived most recently in an assisted living community in Williamstown.
Mr Hirschl was an important art dealer who helped shaped the art business in this country and sold many works of art to public collections. The gallery he co-founded with Abraham Adler in New York City in 1952, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, is still a thriving business today.
“There are two things that sort of visually stick with me,” remembered his daughter, Elaine Hirschl Ellis of Manhattan. “He had a birthday party at Chesterwood [in Massachusetts], a National Trust property. He was 80 years old. He was on the board and had helped establish their Artist in Residence program. There were pyramids of paintings on all of the tables, centerpieces. All of the paintings were in public collections and all of them he had sold. There were a good 36 or more.
“Also, if you look at the dealers today who are the next generation, the ones who are now 45-60 years old, I would vouch that at least half of them had worked at Hirschl & Adler. They came and worked and he encouraged them. The grounding and enthusiasm and support he had for the field was incredible. That is quite a legacy.”
Hirschl graduated from Jamaica High School, Queens, where he was on the football team, and was editor of the school newspaper. He attended City College, N.Y., and although he never actually graduated, his interest in journalism continued and he edited the CCNY newspaper. Later in life, Hirschl taught a course at Williams College.
Mr Hirschl taught himself about American art and became an expert in the field over a long career that began in 1938 when he opened Norman Hirschl Gallery in New York. Mr Hirschl had had some experience in the art business having worked at the gallery belonging to his uncle, Frederick Frazier. His first gallery venture concentrated on American art, something he would return to later in life. He specialized in Hudson River and Ashcan Schools.
While his first gallery soon closed, the talented young Hirschl was hired on as manager John Levy Gallery. He stayed with Levy from 1941 to 1952. It was while he worked at John Levy Gallery that he met his future business partner, antiquarian Abraham Adler. They opened Hirschl & Adler Galleries in 1952.
“Abe’s background was more in antiques and furniture; he was helpful to the Brooklyn Museum of Art in their antiquities department. My father’s interest was in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century painting. They handled Corot, Bougereau, Impressionism, Émile Bernard, the Pont-Aven school,” said Ellis. They handled an occasional Old Master work, but that was rare according to Ellis.
“My father’s particular interest was and continued to be American history. In the 1930s and 40s he focused on the Hudson River School. He would drive around the country and knew where Cole and Bierstadt painted. He would pile the family up and whenever we would go to these places he would relate it to a painting,” said Ellis. “Recently I was in Minneapolis at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and saw a painting by Thomas Chambers that my dad had sold. Chambers was active in the 1840s and 50s. It was that sense of place and who we were as Americans and how our art reflected our development that interested my father. That is why he moved on to the Ashcan later,” said Ellis.
Mr Hirschl marketed the works of The Eight, especially John Sloan, and knew Mrs. Sloan. Mr Hirschl sold the work of several living artists. Ellis remembered him selling the work of Phil Jamison, a watercolor painter from Pennsylvania and George L.K. Morris (1905/6-1975) who was an Abstract Expressionist.
“The idea of a creative person intrigued him; he admired and respected them. He himself wrote music. He wrote show music and songs for all family events. He could sit down at the piano, as he frequently did all over the country, and play. It was all by ear. People would throw dollars on the piano. There was a master recording made of a broadcast of two songs he wrote for my mom and me when he returned to Portland, Ore., from the war. It was made in 1945 by the armed forces radio. When he was in the Philippines he had written ‘I’ll be Home Tomorrow Darling’ and ‘I Spent Another Day for My Elaine.'”
Among the first exhibitions organized by the Hirschl and Adler team was “Two Hundred Years of American Art,” which featured works by American painters Thomas Eakins, John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer and Edward Hicks. Mr Hirschl bought out Mr Adler when Mr Adler wanted to retire (about 25 or 30 years ago according to Ellis; “The direction of the business was going more towards painting”).
Finally, after 30 years with the gallery, Mr Hirschl retired in 1982, but did not disappear from the scene. Mr Hirschl was president of the Art Dealers Association of America from 1982 to 1984. Abraham Adler died in 1985. Years before, Norman Hirschl and Abraham Adler had helped found the Art and Antique Dealers League of America.
In addition to his daughter, Mr Hirschl is survived by four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His granddaughter, Jennifer Hirschl, has a gallery in London, Hirschl Contemporary Art, where she sells contemporary British and European art.
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