How do you create a potent art museum exhibition centered on someone who was not an artist? It’s not impossible, of course. There have been fascinating shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art illuminating the contributions of the influential art dealers Paul Durand-Ruel, Ambroise Vollard, and Alfred Stieglitz. These examinations of the history of taste assembled exemplary works by the artists these pioneering gallerists espoused, including many that were actually exhibited or personally owned by the dealers. But what if the proposed subject, unlike Durand-Ruel or Vollard or Stieglitz, had no obvious connection with the painters and sculptors of his day? What if he was known chiefly for writing a racy memoir recounting an extremely colorful, peripatetic life, a disarmingly frank account that made his name synonymous with “hedonist,” “libertine,” and...


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