The eldest of ten children of a notary in La Réunion, Ambroise Vollard studied law in Montpellier and Paris, but decided to renounce this career in favor of becoming an art dealer. His initial establishment was on the rue de Apennins where he sold primarily prints and drawings. In 1893 he moved to the rue Laffitte, a center of Parisian art commerce, where his first organized exhibition was of Manet. Through Manet's sister-in-law, the artist Berthe Morisot, Vollard was given an introduction to Renoir. Vollard became familiar with the work of Cezanne, purchasing five paintings by the artist in the Tanguy sale of 1894. Vollard made the acquaintance of the artist in Aix, and in 1895 organized the first exhibition of Cezanne. Another exhibition was held in 1898 and the following year Vollard became Cezanne's first dealer. Vollard also organized the first retrospective exhibition of van Gogh, and dealt in works by other members of the artistic avant-garde, including Braque, Picasso, Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck, and Chagall. In 1917 Vollard purchased all of Rouault's paintings, and became the artist's exclusive dealer. Vollard also wrote several books on his artist friends, Cezanne in 1914, followed by volumes on Degas and Renoir, and a memoire of his activities entitled Recollections of a Picture Dealer published in 1936. Vollard was the subject of numerous portraits: in 1899 by Cezanne (now in the musée des Petit Palais in Paris), by Renoir in 1908 (Courthauld Institute, London), as well as by Bonnard Picasso. Vollard died in a traffic accident in the summer of 1939. After his death, Vollard's collections endured multiple peregrinations due to the war.
Vollard's collection was inherited by his brother, Lucien, and by Mme de Galea. Lucien sold much of his share to the dealer Martin Fabiani, who had worked with Vollard. Fabiani attempted to ship the collection to the United States for sale, but due to the occupation of France, shipments originating there were of concern to the Allies. British authorities in Bermuda, where the shipment arrived, confiscated the collection and placed it in prise. The pictures, numbering 635, spent the war years in the custody of the National Gallery of Canada. They were released to Fabiani on May 30, 1949. [See Nicholas, in bibliography, pp. 92-93 and 425]
Mme de Galea's portion of the collection did not fare much easier. It was stored in her family's villa in Paris, which was requisitioned for use by the Allies. Robert de Galea then removed the pictures to a shooting lodge near Chantilly, which itself almost became an Allied bombing practice target. [See Nicholas, pp. 304-5].