Dealer Spotlight: How Two French Siblings Have Redefined the Family Business to Make It Their Own
After growing up in a family of dealers, Hélène Bailly Marcilhac and Charly Bailly went to law school—but decided they just couldn't quit the art world.
Fine Arts Paris kicks off this weekend, and even though this is the fair’s inaugural edition, one of its exhibitors, Charly Bailly and his wife Hanna—owners of the Bailly Gallery—should feel right at home.
For the last several decades, Charly’s family has been a fixture in the Parisian art world. He and his sister, Hélène Bailly Marcilhac—also a gallerist—are the next in a line of art dealers and auctioneers.
The siblings have a strange relationship to the family business. Each has his or her own gallery—Bailly Gallery and Hélène Bailly Gallery, respectively—while co-running another together (under the name Galerie Bailly). The same goes for their art: Some works are controlled by the siblings independently, while others are co-owned.
“I think it is both an advantage and disadvantage,” Hélène tells artnet of the personal and professional crossover. “Working in a family business is never easy, but we complement each other because we are so different.”
When they were younger, Hélène was primarily interested in contemporary art, while Charly preferred Old Master paintings.
Their father, Charles Bailly, first founded the Bailly Gallery in 1977. Around that time, he was buying and selling nearly 4,000 paintings a year. Roughly two-thirds of his stock was Old Masters, while the other third was modern—“Renoir, Matisse, Degas, and so on,” Charly recalls. Unsurprisingly, the siblings each gravitated toward opposite ends of his inventory.
Today, however, the two have virtually met in the middle, with both specializing in work from the post-Impressionist and modern eras. Charly and his wife sell work by artists including Rodin, Matisse, Calder, and Picasso, and tends to collect sculpture more than his sister. Hélène has a roster of similar names, but also focuses on works on paper. Her gallery has a space dedicated to drawings and a space dedicated to 20th-century painting and sculpture.
The senior Bailly’s gallery was located on the left bank of Paris, at 25 quai Voltaire—the same space that the siblings co-run today. They inherited the gallery from their father in 2007. Charly and Hanna also opened a space under his own name in Geneva that same year, and Hélène went on to open her own in 2015, located on Paris’s right bank. Adding to the family ties, both Bailly siblings’ spouses now work in the galleries as well.
“We are very different, but despite everything we are siblings,” Hélène says. “We have made the choice to combine our common taste into one business, which has given us the ability to succeed in our separate galleries as well. Things are very natural, when we both like an artwork, we buy it together. For everything else, we buy what we each want to sell in our respective galleries.”
Growing up, the Baillys were surrounded by art constantly—and not just because of the gallery. “When we were young, we would go to museums and exhibitions all the time in Paris,” Charly says. “During holidays, it was the same—we were spending between four and eight hours at museums every day.”
When they grew up, neither sibling was pressured to take over the family business. In fact, both left home to study law at university. However, it wasn’t long before they came back to the gallery. “We realized very quickly that growing up in this environment made it easy for us for is to go into art. It gave us the tools that we needed,” Hélène says. “Consciously or unconsciously, we have learned the business and after seeing our parents’ success, it is difficult to justify a different career path.”
Today, the galleries under the Bailly name are expanding their footprint. Hélène is adding to her space at 71 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, while Charly is focusing on growing his art-fair portfolio, planning to add fairs in New York and Asia to his schedule in 2018.
“This business is unique because the more we grow, the more we age, the more it is perfected,” Hélène says. “There are no new rules or new techniques that exist in other fields. Living with the artworks, growing with the artworks, and getting to know the artworks is what drives our success.”
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