by Michèle C. Cone
On July 5, 1939, an imposing new art gallery opened in Paris next to the Schiaparelli fashion house, at 17 Place Vendome, with a fare of strangely shaped armoires and chairs with trompe l’oeil decorations, sleek-looking modern pieces and old ones made-to-look-like-new, plus at least one famous painting by Max Ernst
. The invitation to the inauguration came from R. Drouin and L. Castelli, two men in their late 30s who had become friends through their respective wives, Ileana and Olga, who were both natives of Romania. René Drouin was a French interior designer, while Leo Castelli, who would of course become a famous art dealer in New York more than two decades later, was then a man-about-town married to a wealthy young heiress from Bucharest, living a carefree life in Paris. He was financing the new gallery. Neither Drouin nor Castelli knew much about modern art, and their tastes were quite opposite.