It is very likely that anyone involved in the East End gallery or art scene in recent years would have known the name Peter Marcelle. But after a long health struggle, Marcelle, an art dealer in Manhattan and the Hamptons, died March 25 in New York City surrounded by family and friends. He was 65.
Marcelle was born on August 28, 1956 and lived in Hampton Bays. Described by those who knew him as “larger than life” and “a rowdy kid from Queens,” Marcelle reflected on breaking into the world of fine art as an artist in a November 1990 interview with The New York Times, written by Tom Clavin plunged young man.
“I never thought, ‘Hey, I want to get into the art business.’ I didn’t know what the art business was,” Marcelle said in the story. “Where I lived, the only thing I knew about art was these guys who would lean paintings against their vans on the side of the road on Saturday mornings and people would buy them to hang over their sofas.”
But after graduating from high school and looking for a job, Marcelle got her start in the 1970s art world by working in the shipping department of the Coe Kerr Gallery in Manhattan, owned by Frederick Woolworth.
“My family was very poor and I thought it would be fun to meet a Woolworth,” Marcelle told Clavin. “I was only supposed to work for three months, but Fred Woolworth kinda liked me. He could see that I was eager to learn and he sat down and talked to me about art.”
The job got Marcelle, who delivered paintings across Manhattan and beyond, and he began to forge friendships with many elite collectors and artists. He was still a teenager, but his drive and passion – combined with his self-taught skills – became a hallmark that would shape Marcelle’s career.
He studied art history at New York University and regularly collaborated with important artists. His friendship with Andy Warhol led to his first Warhol portrait commission, followed shortly thereafter by an interview in the Andy Warhol short film. In 1981 Marcelle became Director of American Paintings at the Hammer Gallery in New York and held that position for the remainder of the decade until he opened Marcelle Fine Art on Madison Avenue.
In the late 1970s and into the 1980s, it was Marcelle’s commitment to the Wyeth family – Andrew Wyeth in particular – that defined his artistic career, and he is credited with selling the artist’s entire ‘Helga’ collection in 1989.
When asked by Clavin in the 1990 Times interview what drew him to Andrew Wyeth’s work, Marcelle replied, “I’m not sure I can say. Why do you love a woman or why do you love something else? It was my emotional response to the content of each image.”
“He seldom put two figures in a painting; it was usually one in a landscape,” Marcelle added. “Most painters, I think, use too much people or information. Wyeth just gives you enough and you can imagine the rest.”
Other career milestones for Marcelle include co-curating the Wyeth exhibition Autobiography with Thomas Hoving at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City in 1985 and curating Andrew Wyeth in Perspective at the Palm Springs Art Museum from October 2011 until January 2012. Marcelle is also the only private dealer to have a one-man Wyeth family show called “New New England” in 1991.
In 2001 Marcelle switched to a more contemporary focus when he co-curated the Fresh Paint exhibition at his Hampton Road Gallery in Southampton. From the early 2000s Marcelle owned galleries in Bridgehampton and Southampton and was director of the Gerald Peters Gallery in New York.
When asked by Clavin in 1990 about strategies buyers should employ when investing in artworks, Marcelle said, “Don’t buy an artist’s painting because someone else did it. If you are exposed to art and love a particular work, it will likely appeal to others and be a good investment.”
Marcelle is survived by his three children, Andrew, Amanda and Carter, grandchildren Charlotte and Eleanor, and fiancé Catherine McCormick. According to people close to him, “He was a mentor to countless artists, revered for his unique humor, guidance and unwavering friendship.” Described by many as their best friend, he has also been described as “unapologetically authentic, opinionated about almost everything.” , passionate about art, fast cars and motorbikes and totally devoted to those he loved”.
The cremation was private, with a celebration of life for Peter Marcelle scheduled for June 4th. Details following.