The Art of the Collector: Paul Magriel

- by Renee Roberts

Paul David Magriel, Sr., and the author, 1967

by Renee Magriel Roberts

As a bookseller involved in buying and selling rare books, I am naturally focused on the object itself-the book. Naturally, I'm also interested in my customers, and when I can I try to spend time finding out more about them and their interests, in order to provide better service and increase our company's sales. When I study, I am looking at the books-whether to learn more about bindings, editions, the fine points of the books' historical contexts, the life of the authors. So, it is rare for me to study collectors themselves, collectors as the object of my interest.

When I was young, however, due to an early marriage into a very interesting family, I got to spend time with one of the country's premier art collectors, Paul David Magriel, Sr. At the time I met him, in the early 1960s, Paul had already established his reputation among the wealthy, museums across the United States, and the cognoscenti on Madison Avenue, as having one of the finest eyes in art collecting.

Paul lived on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, striding distance from his favorite haunts in the galleries and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He had decorated his ground-floor apartment to be a veritable gallery, and whenever I visited with his son, Paul (the backgammon player, not to be confused with Paul Sr.) there was always something interesting to see.

Paul began his career working for Lincoln Kirstein, established the dance and theatre archives at the Museum of Modern Art and authoring what are still the standard biographies of Pavola, Nijinsky, and Isadora Duncan, as well as the bibliography of dance published by the New York Public Library. During World War II Paul managed to continue his work collecting - putting together a book on soldier's art at Keesler Field. After the war, ever fascinated with the human body he collected images and ephemera related to boxing, now housed at Columbia University library, and authored what is still the standard bibliography on the subject. Paul did not just collect; he was a scholar as well.