top of page

Beatrice Judd Ryan

—If you enjoy this post consider sharing it using the social tags, bottom left of the page.

Image caption: [Cropped] Beatrice Judd Ryan, june 18 1950, Gelatin Silver Photographic Print, Johan Hagemeyer Photograph Collection, Bancroft Library, The University of California berkeley.

Between 2017–2019 I undertook a Masters by Research in the Art Market and the History of Collecting at the University of Buckingham and the National Gallery, London. My dissertation was on the San Francisco art dealer Beatrice Judd Ryan (c.1880–1966) who was instrumental in promoting contemporary American art (in particular Bay Area art) at the Galerie Beaux Arts (1925–1933), Art in Action (Golden Gate International Exposition) 1939–40, and the Rotunda Gallery (City of Paris department store) 1945–57. Like many pioneering art dealers, Ryan remains a footnote in art history due to a number of biases in academia. The biases themselves need a lot of unpacking, and I will get to those at another time, but a brief list include location, gender, time period, class, taste, and topic. On the subject of "topic", the history of art dealing is a fairly "new" topic in academia, and only three books exist that document that history in the USA. The same is not true of the history of collecting, which has been widely explored in academia, including the role of women as collectors. In recent years, it has been the gallery and museum sectors, rather than the education or publishing sectors, that have done the most to address this imbalance, e.g. the Jewish Museum's exhibition on Edith Gregor Halpert and Christie's Education Symposium 2019. Both these initiatives will be addressed in other posts. For now, I want to provide a snapshot of the early life of Beatrice Judd Ryan and the founding of the Galerie Beaux Arts in San Francisco.

- Beatrice Bromfield was born in Melbourne, c. 1880, to Davenport Bromfield (1862–1954) and Mary Ware (1865–1931).

- The Bromfield family emigrate to the USA in 1882–1883.

- As a child, Ryan attends the Castilleja School, Palo Alto.

- Ryan graduates with a BA in English from Stanford University (Est. 1891) in 1902. Presumably, Ryan would have visited the Leland Stanford Jr. Museum (Est. 1894), which was then the largest privately-owned museum in the world. Notably, both University and Museum were overseen by Jane Elizabeth Stanford, who "weilded enormous power" over both institutions until her death in 1905 [2].

- Ryan marries Arthur Judd Ryan, a wealthy New Yorker, and spends 1906–1907 traveling Europe with 'unlimited funds' [3]. About this year, Ryan notes 'When I was abroad I looked at a great many galleries' [4]. Ryan, who later in life arranged a major West Coast exhibition of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism [the Modern Moasters Loan Exhibition of 1930], may have sought out galleries such as Galerie Georges Petit, Galerie Durand-Ruel and Galerie Vollard, which sold to a number of prominent American collectors including Albert C. Barnes, and Gertrude and Leo Stein (who lived in Paris at the time).

- Upon her return to New York, Ryan studied briefly at Parsons—at the time it was called the New York School of Fine and Applied Art—most likely taking clases in interior and costume design, as both were a source of income to her later in life.

- In 1910, Ryan's father-in-law's real estate ventures flopped, and she and Arthur lose much of their income.

- 1916, Arthur dies, leaving Ryan widowed and with one son. She recalls:

“Everything I had depended upon had been taken from me—loved ones, possessions, security. Somehow I had lost the God of my childhood. There must be a new place for me somewhere. Work I must have, with a small son and no income but a small trust fund from Australia. Work it must be, but I demand one that is constructive—one that will completely absorb my thought in creating a new world." [5]

- After Arthur's death, Ryan returns to her family in San Francisco. She takes a job decorating suites at the Fairmont Hotel.

- In 1925, with the encouragement of artists such as Maynard Dixon, Ryan establishes the Galerie Beaux Arts at 116 Maiden Lane (above the Page and Shaw Candy Shop; the gallery later moved to the Whittell Building). Ryan claims her's was the first gallery in San Francisco, though this is not entirely true. Contemporary art was also on display and for sale at the S&G Gump department store (1861–2018), the Vickery, Atkins & Torrey design firm (1888–1933), the the Hill Tolerton Print Rooms (1916–c. 1923), the Hotel Del Monte art gallery (Est. 1907).

- Ryan's detailed description of the gallery design suggests she was looking to emulate a domestic interior inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement. Displaying fine art and home furniture and furnishings together was a common sales strategy during this period.

- During the 1920s, the definition of gallery roles and gallery spaces were not rigid and names were often used interchangeably. Ryan called herself a 'director','merchant', 'galleriest' and 'manager', and refers to the gallery as an 'exchange' and a 'studio' [6].

- To minimise financial risk, Ryan initially shared the gallery with a musician who taught piano in a room at the rear [she later ended this arrangement]. Ryan initially focussed on selling crafts but found the quality of the product (and artist) unreliable. To generate money she tailored her expensive New York clothes into fancy dress costumes, which she sold.

- Ryan is knowledgeable on the formation and operation of a number of galleries in New York and Chicago prior to opening the Beaux Arts. In her memoir, she cites the membership structure of the Grand Central Art Galleries, NYC (1922–1994) as a template for the Beaux Arts. In 1928 she visited the Frank K.M. Rehn Galleries, and met with Juliana Force at the Whitney Studio [7]. In 1933 she met with Elizabeth Goodspeed at the Arts Club of Chicago. She is impressed with both the Whitney and Arts Club [8].

- Ryan approaches philanthropist A.B.C. Dohrmann to patron the gallery. He refuses, according to Ryan, because 'He thought I would find the responsibility to handling donated funds disagreeable' [9]. To counter this sexism, Ryan recruits Ethel Johnstone to oversee the gallery finances; Johnstone was a noted accountant, educator, and President of the Business and Professional Women's Club of San Francisco.

- In marketing the gallery, Ryan introduces a constructed division between the 'innovators' [her artists] and the conservative 'Bohemian Club' of San Francisco. [Visiting the Bohemian Club in 1882, Oscar Wilde observed, 'I never saw so many well-dressed, well-fed, business-looking Bohemians in my life' [10]]. Such a fabricated division (some of her artists also belonged to the Bohemian Club) is a common "conservative versus innovative" sales narrative in modernism which allowed Ryan to appeal to a new category of collector (in particular the growing middle classes).

- Ryan's innovators—transposing French impressionism into American—included Gottardo Piazzoni, Ralph Stackpole, Rinaldo Cuneo, and Helen Forbes. The gallery also showed the 'Society of Six' (e.g. Selden Connor Gile, Louis Siegriest and William Henry Clapp), and the 'Monterey Group' (e.g. August Gay, Margaret Bruton, Helen Bruton and Ina Perham). Many Bay Area artists had studied in Europe: Anne Bremer at the Academie Moderne, Piazzoni at the Academie Julien, Stackpole at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Cuneo at the Academie Colarossi, and Forbes at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich. Later in life Ryan referred to the art she sold as 'quiet Californian landscapes' [11].

- After establishing the gallery, Ryan turned to Maynard Dixon, Frank J. Van Sloun, and Frank Burnside Tufts for guidance. Although the lease for the gallery was in Ryan's name, she changed approach in 1930, advertising the business as a 'cooperative gallery [...] maintained through a group of patrons' [12]. Patrons would contribute $75.00 [$1,135.22 in 2019] each year for running costs and recieve a painting by an artist member. Membership fees were set at $5.00 [$75.68] and artists would be charged 20% on sale of artwork. Recruiting just 12 patrons and 12 members would cover the rent for the year but other expenses including light, heat, telephone, stationery, and employees (including Ryan's salary) also needed to be budgeted for. The cooperative model (it was cooperative in name only) did not safeguard Ryan's personal finances. Ryan invested money into the gallery with no return, even selling inherited property to support the venture.

- In her unpublished memoir, Ryan makes little mention of the collectors at the Beaux Arts and only a few are referred to by name; these include 'stockbrokers' Harold Schneller and Edward Welke, the Hollywood actor Myrna Loy, and Duncan Phillips, who bought watercolors by Jean Negulesco who went on to become the Hollywood director of Johnny Belinda (1948) and Titanic (1953). William L. Gerstle was a founding patron of the gallery and donated $1,000 to renovate it: Gerstle went on to be a co-founder of the San Francisco Museum of (Modern) Art (SFMOMA). Albert 'Mickey' Bender, whose collection formed the basis of the founding of SFMOMA declined to patron Ryan and the gallery, 'He told me that the Beaux Arts as it existed did not interest him' [13].

- The only known document surviving from the Beaux Arts is the Club Beaux Arts Record Book; a visitor book-cum-scrapbook held at the California Historical Society. The book does not disclose which paintings were on show, what price they were, or which sold, but it sometimes provides a visitor list for individual exhibitions or talks. More useful for researchers is the publication The Argus (April 1927–April 1929) edited by Jehanne Bietry Salinger. The Argus includes exhibition listings, reviews, and black and white reproductions. It has allowed me to piece together an example of an exhibition schedule at the gallery. [One critic writing for The Argus was Howard Putzel, who went on to advise Peggy Guggenheim on her collection, and at her Art of this Century gallery].

Exhibition list for the Beaux Arts in 1927–1928

April 1–18 ---------The Italy America Society

April 18–May 1 ---Florence Tufts, John Burnside Tufts

May 1–15 ----------The Monterey Group

June 1–18 ---------Ahwahnee Hotel Exhibition of Sketches

June 18–Aug. 1 --Closed

Sept. 1–30 ---------Group Show of Member Artists

Oct. 1–15 ----------Rinaldo Cuneo

Oct. 17–31 ---------E. [Euphemia] Charlton Fortune

Nov. 2–16 ----------Otis Oldfield

Nov. 17–30 --------Maynard Dixon

Dec. 5–31 ---------Group Show of Member Artists

- With the stock market crash in October 1929, the USA entered into a prolonged economic Depression. Unsurprisingly, Ryan was forced to borrow money; in one instance to ship artwork from Edith Gregor Halpert's Downtown Gallery in New York [14].

- In 1930, to survive the impact of the Depression, the Beaux Arts scheduled talks and introduced a programme of music concerts by artists including Noel Sullivan and Kenneth Spencer. It also ran a successful membership drive that allowed operations to continue to the end of the year. When it was inevitable that further funds could not be raised and Ryan was unwilling to continue to donate her time, the board took the decision to close the gallery and donate the assets to Ryan as a token gesture.

“The closing of the gallery was attended with so much unhappiness that I have recounted it but briefly. Eight years of honest effort and love. In the beginning, personal funds used for the background, and two years of services donated, drawing only expense money, and the last months without salary. My only satisfaction was that the gallery had filled the need for the progressive artists when there were no museums or galleries to take its place. Perhaps it had served its purpose. That I acted wisely in closing was proved because soon after, the United States Government had to establish the Federal Arts Project to sustain artists in every center throughout the country." [15]

- During her life, and upon her death, Ryan was often depicted as a bit player in the Bay Area art community. Two obituaries on Ryan offer lukewarm praise of the dealer. The San Francisco Examiner credits Ryan with 'joining' the Beaux Arts and being a 'finder and inspirer of local talents' [16] and The San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Punch wrote 'Mrs. Ryan will be remembered primarily as an enthusiastic, energetic, zestful entrepreneur of West Coast artists' [17]. Hitherto academic and institutional silence on Ryan is not tacit proof that she was unimportant to, or had little impact on, the development of modern art in the Bay Area. Personal slights in her own lifetime and upon her death might reveal more about the times she lived in rather than represent a balanced judgement on her professional legacy.

- Ryan connected with local, national, and international artists (she claimed to give Diego Rivera his first West Coast exhibition; though I could not verify this), arranged small and large-scale exhibitions, sought to break down barriers between fine art and the crafts, and made connections with dealers across American in order to learn from them and stabilize Beaux Arts operations. Ryan invested her own money into the gallery, only stopping with the arrival of the Great Depression, at which point she took on a public, federally-funded role to promote art across the Pacific North West and California; thereby substantially impacting on the livelihood of hundreds of artists.

- 'I am the pioneer', she wrote in her memoir, which remains, like the dealer, forgotten in the archives [18].


[1] Judd Ryan, Beatrice, The Bridge Between Then and Now, Unpublished Manuscript, (Berkeley: University of California Bancroft Library), pp. 53–54.

[2] Manthorne, Katherine, 'Early Art Matronage & The American Art Museum 1870–1900: New York, Chicago, & San Francisco', Before Peggy Guggenheim, American Women Art Collectors (Venice: Marsilio, 2001), pp. 47–58 (p. 56).

[3] Judd Ryan, Beatrice, The Bridge Between Then and Now, p. 4.

[4] Oral history interview with Beatrice Judd Ryan, 1964 Februry 2. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[5] Judd Ryan, Beatrice, The Bridge Between Then and Now, p. 36.

[6] Ibid., p. 7–8.

[7] Ibid., p. 20.

[8] Ibid., p. 40.

[9] Ibid., p. 21.

[10] Maria Finn, 'Keeping Reality at Bay', Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2010.

[11] Judd Ryan, Beatrice, The Bridge Between Then and Now, p. 14.

[12] Club Beaux Arts, Club Beaux Arts Record Book: 1924–1958, California Historical Society Archives, San Francisco, 1924.

[13] Judd Ryan, Beatrice, The Bridge Between Then and Now, p. 57.

[14] Ibid., p. 45.

[15] Ibid., pp. 53–54.

[16] "Art Expert Beatrice Ryan Dies", San Francisco Examiner, Dec 1 1966, p. 67.

[17] Mille Robbins, "Friend of the Arts", Chronicle Sunday Punch, Sunday December 4 1966, p. 4.

[18] Judd Ryan, Beatrice, The Bridge Between Then and Now, p. 43.

Other sources:

Judd Ryan, Beatrice, 'The Rise of Modern Art in the Bay Area', California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 1, March 1959


bottom of page