Vose Galleries in the 1930s: the Great Depression

Robert C. Vose, Jr., (1911-1998),
who joined the firm in 1932

The prosperity of the "roaring twenties" was about to come to an abrupt end as the fundamental imbalances in America's economic system exploded into the deepest depression America had ever known. In 1929 the stock market crashed under its own heavy weight of borrowing and speculation until the worth of the market plummeted from 87 billion dollars in 1929 to 15.6 billion in 1932. Soon, 14‑16 million Americans found themselves out of work.

Robert C. Vose noticed his art business was eerily insulated from the immediate effects of the Great Depression. Contrary to the larger economic climate, 1930 and 1931 were the most prosperous of his first 33 years in business. In 1932, however, the art market collapsed literally overnight. Having taken advantage of the seemingly "easy credit" of the times, Robert Vose was $200,000 in debt with no foreseeable solution for repayment.

Traveling Exhibition catalogue,
Los Angeles, c. 1930

Business in Boston was abysmal; the gallery persisted and held its regular monthly shows, usually with no results. Robert Vose could no longer maintain his loyal staff of 15, and summoned his three young sons to help him. The eldest son, Seth Morton Vose II, joined after graduating from Harvard, and a year later, Robert C. Vose, Jr. and Herbert P. Vose entered the field, the latter leaving after ten years to become a successful professional photographer. During these lean years, the brothers lived at home and drew salaries of fifteen dollars a week. Together, Robert Vose and his sons traveled the country with painting exhibits but sales were equally bleak. In 1938, a five-month train journey, with over 100 paintings, to Dallas, Houston, and Buffalo turned up nothing. Seth Morton and Robert C. Vose, Jr. sent out over 150 painting exhibits during the decade, to no avail. Had it not been for an understanding landlord, banker, and patient vendors who waited years to be repaid, the gallery would certainly have gone under.  

As the general economy improved after the beginning of World War II, the gallery's prospects slowly started to brighten. Robert C. Vose spent thirty years recovering from the wounds of the depression and his sons had received an equally sobering introduction into the art business.

← Previous   Next →