Marie Harriman Gallery was established on East 57th Street in New York in 1930, the same year that Marie Norton Whitney married W. Averell Harriman. The Harrimans had begun collecting art almost immediately after their marriage. Harriman family friend, the American artist Walt Kuhn (1877-1949)acted as an unofficial advisor to Marie Harriman Gallery as well as exhibiting and selling through Harriman. He sometimes joined Marie and Averell on their annual buying trips to Paris. Marie Harriman hosted nine solo exhibitions of Kuhn's work at her gallery. From the outset, the Marie Harriman Gallery also had close ties with the Parisian dealer Paul Guillaume (1891-1934).
The day to day operations of Marie Harriman Gallery appear to have been under the supervision of her secretaries, first Margaret Gise and later Anne Sardi. In 1931 Marie Harriman Gallery contracted with Swiss dealers Segismundo Neuman and Gottlieb Friedrich Reber for the purchase of modern French pictures. In addition, Marie Harriman Gallery contracted for relatively short periods of time with various agents to scout for sales outside of New York, at least during the later years of the gallery's activities.
The exhibition schedule at the Marie Harriman Gallery was as ambitious as any of the more established galleries on East 57th street. Most of the presentations were accompanied by two-fold catalogue checklists, designed by Marie, which sometimes included short introductory essays. The first season set the pace and tone of exhibitions. French masters, particularly Derain and Rousseau, were interspersed with shows of recent works by Kuhn and young American artists. Although American artists had been featured at Marie Harriman Gallery from its inception, by 1940 the exhibition schedule was predominantly American, probably due to the increasingly difficult political situation in Europe. Young artists such as Henry Botkin, George Picken, and Walt Kuhn's students Frank di Gioia and Patsy Santo were exhibited in a series of monographic exhibitions at Marie Harriman Gallery in the late 1930s.
In June of 1942 Marie Harriman decided to close her gallery "for the duration," the implication being that it would re-open, which it never did. Although Marie Harriman Gallery officially closed in 1942, the stock was not immediately dispersed. Paintings and drawings continued to be acquired and sold through the legal entity of Marie Harriman Gallery (subsumed into the Averell and Marie Harriman Foundation) and some remained on a consignment status for a number of years. In 1961 the National Gallery of Art exhibited the highlights of the Harriman collection, most of which remained with the Harrimans until after Marie's death in 1970. In 1972 Averell donated twenty-two of the paintings and drawings from Marie Harriman Gallery to the National Gallery of Art; between 1972-1973 he dispersed more of the inventory at auction sales in New York. The remainder of the collection remained with Averell and was inherited at his death in 1986 by his third wife, Pamela, later United States Ambassador to France.