Charles W. Kraushaar established Kraushaar Galleries in 1885 as a small store on Broadway near Thirty-first Street in New York City. Initially the store sold artist materials, photogravures, and reproductions. Drawing on his previous experience working with William Schause, a leading dealer in European paintings, Kraushaar soon progressed to selling original watercolors, paintings, and engravings by European artists, primarily landscapes of the Barbizon School.
In 1901 Kraushaar moved the business to 260 Fifth Avenue and with the assistance of his brother, John F. Kraushaar, began adding more modern French and American painters to the inventory. Of particular interest to John Kraushaar was the group of American realists known as "The Eight," who had held a self-selected, self-organized exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery in 1908. The Eight were Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan. Luks, whom John Kraushaar met around 1902, was probably the first major American artist represented at Kraushaar Galleries. In 1917 John Sloan was invited to hold his first one-person show at the galleries despite accusations that his exhibition at the Whitney Studio the previous year had represented a brutal depiction of life that lacked subtlety and sensitivity.
When Charles Kraushaar died suddenly in 1917, John assumed control of the galleries and soon enlisted the assistance of his daughter, Antoinette Kraushaar. Antoinette had suffered a bout of pneumonia during the influenza epidemic of 1918 that cut short her education; grooming her for a career in the galleries was a logical step. Following the end of the First World War, Kraushaar resumed his buying trips to Europe, often accompanied by Antoinette, and exhibited works by European artists such as André Derain, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Vincent Van Gogh. However, it was the increasing commitment to contemporary American artists for which the galleries would become best known. In addition to The Eight, the Kraushaars developed their inventory of American paintings and etchings with exhibitions of work by artists such as Gifford Beal, Charles Demuth, Guy Pène Du Bois, Gaston Lachaise, Jerome Myers, Charles Prendergast, and Henry Schnakenberg.
Returning from a buying trip to Europe in 1929, John Kraushaar wrote to California collector Preston Harrision on July 26 that "the prices over there, especially for modern pictures are astounding." Nevertheless, Kraushaar believed that investing in modern art would yield benefits within the next five years, and he refused to be influenced by museums and critics outside of New York who were reluctant to agree. He exhibited a healthy disrespect for museum directors in general, whom he referred to in his letters to Harrision as "dead heads" who ought to be sent to different art centers of the world in order to "get in touch with what is going on there" (March 11, 1929).
Like most of its contemporaries, Kraushaar Galleries suffered considerably during the Depression of the 1930s and struggled to collect and, in turn, pay accounts due. On October 5, 1931, John Kraushaar confessed to H. S. Southam, "Business is very bad with us, and I know that you will treat it confidentially when I tell you that I have had to sacrifice a good part of my personal holdings to provide cash for my own business." By 1934 the rent on the galleries' current location at 680 Fifth Avenue, where Kraushaar had moved in 1919, was out of all proportion to the amount of business that was being generated. In 1936, a timely move to 730 Fifth Avenue allowed the family to effect substantial economies without a disproportionate loss of business.
During the 1930s, John Kraushaar's health began to fail, and he was frequently absent from the galleries. Consequently, Antoinette Kraushaar took on greater responsibility for the operation of the business with the assistance of her brother Charles. Although Antoinette was one of few women to hold such a prominent position in the art business at that time, there is no evidence in the records to suggest that artists or customers who had been accustomed to dealing with John Kraushaar had any difficulty accepting the transition in management from father to daughter.
Nevertheless, collecting accounts remained difficult, and although business had improved by 1938 it was now stymied by the threat of war in Europe. The warmth of relations between the Kraushaars and the artists they handled, and their colleagues, was crucial to Antoinette during these years. She repeatedly expressed her gratitude for their understanding and assistance in her letters as she struggled to meet financial obligations and operate the business in her father's absence, experimenting with different strategies as she evolved an approach that would sustain the business. In a letter to Gifford Beal dated August 6, 1941, she spoke of "hellish times" and stressed, "I have learned a great many things during the past few years and hope that we are groping our way towards a working solution of our own affairs at least."
While there is no question that Antoinette Kraushaar shared her father's genuine interest in contemporary American artists, the growing commitment to these artists that was forged during these years was driven in large part by necessity. By increasing her stock of American art and adding "younger painters of promise," she was able to sell work in a much broader price range. Consequently she could reach a wider audience and increase the likelihood that the business would remain solvent. This method of business also suited her personality far more than having a very specialized inventory of highly priced work, an approach that she confessed to J. Lionberger Davis on December 3, 1940, "requires a particular kind of temperament, and frankly I neither like it nor believe in it."
Throughout her career Antoinette imbued the business with her personal style. She understood that elitism alienated art buyers of moderate income, who constituted her bread and butter, and believed strongly that the gallery environment should not be intimidating to potential customers. She corresponded at length with old and new clients alike, patiently offering advice when asked and maintaining liberal policies for those who wished to borrow artwork on approval. She also participated in events that promoted efforts to make art available to a wider audience, such as a 1951 exhibition and seminar at the Florida Gulf Coast Art Center that addressed problems of buying and selling art. She was a two-time board member of the Art Dealers Association of America and considered the organization to be an important source of support for the gallery community.
In her dealings with other commercial galleries and art institutions, Antoinette Kraushaar exhibited a strong spirit of cooperation and enthusiasm, consistently lending art to small, locally owned businesses and community organizations as well as to more established galleries and world-class museums. She also developed long and mutually beneficial associations with the art departments of many educational institutions across the country, which proved to be fertile ground for young and upcoming artists.
Antoinette Kraushaar exhibited the same honesty and fairness in dealing with artists as her father had, expressing her opinions of their work in a forthright manner and maintaining a policy of always looking at the work of any artist who came to her. She understood the inherent difficulties of dealing with living artists but relished the excitement of encouraging their work and watching them develop. On November 14, 1947, in reply to a letter from the artist Bernard Arnest, in which Arnest apologized for burdening her with his worries, she reminded him, "One of the functions of a dealer is to act as a safety valve. Didn't you know?"
Although she would not retain artists indefinitely if she felt their work had deteriorated in quality, Antoinette often stressed that she was prepared to accept little or no initial financial return on the work of artists who showed promise or whose work held a particular appeal for her. In a letter of December 30, 1940, she reassured Walt Dehner that the lack of sales from his recent exhibition would not lead her to withdraw his work from the galleries. In typically unassuming style she advised Dehner to "go on painting whatever interests you. We have found that there is no recipe for success, either artistic or material."
In the early 1940s Antoinette Kraushaar implemented two changes to her inventory. Sensing that interest in sculpture was growing, she rearranged the space to give that medium more room and attention. The market for etchings had been declining since the late 1930s, and as she reduced this part of her inventory she also acted on her personal passion for drawings by opening a small gallery devoted to contemporary American drawings that were priced well within the range of most customers.
By the time Kraushaar Galleries moved to 32 East Fifty-seventh Street, late in 1944, American art had become the main focus of the business. While the long-standing interest in The Eight and other artists of that period continued, the galleries also handled contemporaries such as Louis Bouché, Samuel Brecher, John Heliker, Andrée Ruellan, and Karl Schrag. When John Kraushaar died in December 1946, Antoinette and Charles legally assumed control of the business. This partnership continued until 1950, when Antoinette assumed sole ownership of the gallery.
In 1955 the galleries moved uptown to smaller quarters at 1055 Madison Avenue, and Antoinette Kraushaar gave up the greater part of her print business. She was inundated with requests from artists to be allowed a chance to show her their work, and the galleries' exhibition schedule was always full. Contemporary artists she now represented included Bernard Arnest, Peggy Bacon, Russell Cowles, Kenneth Evett, William Dean Fausett, William Kienbusch, Joe Lasker, and George Rickey, and she continued to exhibit artwork by Charles Demuth, William Glackens, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Boardman Robinson, and John Sloan.
By the late 1950s the artists of the generation that her father had promoted in the early part of the century had died, but Antoinette Kraushaar had the pleasure of seeing his faith in them come to fruition. In a letter to Ralph Wilson dated October 20, 1958, she stated with satisfaction, "The Boston Museum is taking (at long last) a deep interest in (Maurice) Prendergast, and they will probably do an important show within the next year." Her correspondence with William Glackens's son Ira in the 1960s reveals the extent to which Glackens's popularity had grown since his death in 1938, and the market for John Sloan's work had been increasing steadily since the late 1920s. In 1962 James Penney summed up Kraushaar Galleries' success in the foreword of a catalog for an exhibition of paintings and sculpture the galleries had organized with the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute at Hamilton College:
Charles W. Kraushaar born
Kraushaar Galleries established on Broadway near Thirty-first Street
Galleries moved to 260 Fifth Avenue
Antoinette Kraushaar born
Charles W. Kraushaar died; John Kraushaar assumed control of the business, increasing inventory of modern American and European artists; first John Sloan exhibition
Galleries moved to 680 Fifth Avenue
Antoinette Kraushaar began assisting with the business
Galleries moved to the Heckscher Building at 730 Fifth Avenue
Galleries moved to the Rolls Royce Building at 32 East Fifty-seventh Street; American art now the main focus of the business
John Kraushaar died; Antoinette and Charles Kraushaar assumed control of the business
Antoinette Kraushaar assumed sole ownership of Kraushaar Galleries
Galleries moved to 1055 Madison Avenue
Carole Pesner joined Kraushaar Galleries
Galleries extended into adjacent building
Galleries moved to 724 Fifth Avenue
Katherine Kaplan joined Kraushaar Galleries
Antoinette Kraushaar retired from day-to-day management of the business
Antoinette Kraushaar died