The art dealer Andras Kalman, who has died aged 88, had a rare, discerning eye for the fresh, original impulse underlying the best modern art - a pristine, non-academic quality evident too in his collection of antique, naive British paintings with their beautifully awry perspectives. Visitors to the Crane Kalman Gallery in Brompton Road, south-west London, were invariably enchanted by his courteous charm, flair and wittily, sometimes uproariously, perceptive stories about artists whose works he showed, including LS Lowry, Ben Nicholson and Graham Sutherland.
He felt strongly that art should intimately move and nourish the viewer, saying that when he visited Henry Moore, he was \"aware of the humanity of the person. Moore would have a small sculpture on a table, some so beautiful you want to caress them, and that is the sort of art I like.\" Kalman\'s own collection of intuitively sophisticated evocations of ordinary daily life by self-taught painters (from around 1750 to 1900) also gave him persistent delight. These are now on permanent public display in the attic galleries at Compton Verney in Warwickshire, courtesy of the Peter Moores Foundation.
Kalman was born into a Jewish family in the small Hungarian town of Mateszalka, where his father was a prosperous pharmacist. One of the 19th-century British paintings he later collected - showing maids on a balcony, ogling newcomers to a market town - reminded him of Mateszalka. Aged 16, Kalman came to England first to study English, then chemistry at Leeds University. In the summer of 1939 he cut short a holiday in Normandy with his brother Gabor, and returned to England. His brother went home to Hungary.
He never saw his family again. His parents perished in the Holocaust. His brother Tomas was kicked to death in the town square, and Gabor survived the liberation of Dachau, only to die soon afterwards from typhoid. Andras returned briefly to Hungary in 1948. The family home with its balcony and geraniums remained, but he found nothing left for him there. He later said: \"I had been a happy child, but after this I was lonely and unhappy for 20 years. Not till I married and had children did I begin to feel whole again.\"
He settled in Manchester, where, as a tennis player of professional standard, he earned a living as a weekend coach. \"But still I had the dream of an art shop.\" He transformed a former air raid shelter in a basement into a respectable gallery space. With a young man\'s chutzpah, he set his sights high, writing to Nicholson, Moore, Jacob Epstein and Bernard Leach, requesting the loan of works. The artists responded well, but not so the public, none of whom turned up to the first private view. A Manchester Guardian typesetter misread Kalman\'s cursive script for an advert for the \"new gallery opening\". The advert instead announced \"crane gallery opening\". So he simply adopted this singular name. Towards the end of this first show, the local painter LS Lowry came in and, sensing that Kalman was struggling, bought a small painting. So began a lifelong friendship.
Kalman moved to London in 1957 and set up the Crane Kalman Gallery at 178 Brompton Road, where he staged many exhibitions of works by artists he felt were critically underrated: Nicholson\'s first wife Winifred, Alan Lowndes and Celso Lagar, the Spanish painter of the bohemian circus, pre-eminent among them. He also liked to highlight neglected aspects of artists. He was, for example, infuriated by the growing popular myth of Lowry as a grumbling misanthrope, saying he found him \"warm, friendly, generous though lonely\". In 1968, he put on a revelatory show, The Loneliness of LS Lowry, which included poignant oil sketches of ostracised down-and-outs, a man searching a dustbin for food, a bearded woman. He also showed what he called \"lonely Lowrys\", bleak yet awe-inspiring moor scenes and nearly all-white seascapes.
Kalman\'s warmth and erudition attracted many writers, actors and film and theatre directors. Yet, ironically, what often brought them to his gallery was a subtle, unsensational, contemplative quality announced in the title of a 1999 exhibition, Silence in Painting. This resounding quietness manifested itself here in landscapes by Giorgio Morandi, abstracts by Nicholson, and the spacious, luminous paintings of Mary Newcomb, the East Anglian painter whom Kalman had discovered and successfully exhibited.
Kalman married his devoted wife, Dorothy Wareing, in 1961. She died in 2001. He responded stoically to a recent fire at his home, which destroyed some cherished paintings. He was a regular, lively, loquacious presence in the gallery until a few months before his death. Two of his three children, Andrew and Sally, continue to run the gallery. His son Richard has a photographic gallery in Brighton.
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