How Neal and Wendy Leviton Went From Buying Art on Cruises to Running Their Own Online Gallery

The couple now run a thriving online business.

Neal (far left) and Wendy Leviton (right).
Neal (far left) and Wendy Leviton (right).

Neal and Wendy Leviton first discovered a passion for art while on a cruise ship. The couple found themselves smitten by a Salvador Dalí painting and snapped it up. They eventually translated their passion into their own online gallery, where they sell works by artists including Chagall, Lautrec, Matisse, Picasso, Lichtenstein, Dalí, and Klimt among others.

Recently we sat down with the couple to talk about their decades of collecting.

Tell us about your background and what led you here.

Neal: My earliest recollection of artwork would be from various museums I visited as a teenager and young adult. I have always been fascinated by works from the masters. In terms of collecting, we were first introduced to that on a cruise ship back in the 80’s. My wife and I loved the art auctions on the ships and attended them whenever we cruised. We slowly collected a few pieces on cruises every year. Our first works were by American artist Simon Bull, Tarkay, Melanie Taylor Kent, and a few others. I should also mention that we attended art fairs regularly in the Los Angeles area and purchased art directly from the artists. I remember Melanie Taylor Kent selling her art at the Westwood Art Fair. We purchased several pieces directly from her.

Wendy: I have no formal education in art. I just like to look at pretty things. My definition of that term has both narrowed and expanded in certain ways over the years and has evolved into appreciation.

What is the first artwork that captured your attention?

Neal: Probably works by Dalí.

Wendy: I grew up in Chicago and visited the Art Institute many, many times. The huge painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat made an indelible impression. Also, my mother had decorative tiles of some of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec’s iconic works hanging in our living room. Today, those tiles are displayed in my sister’s home.

What type of art does your company focus on?

Neal: We focus on what we know best, the 20th-century masters. We do carry works from more current artists as well now, but initially our business was strictly Picasso, Braque, Chagall, Agam, Tarkay, and artists of that genre.

Wendy: I would call that our specialty combined with the fact the we sell our works for roughly half of what brick and mortar galleries sell them for. For us the most challenging part is marketing and getting our name out there. I see lots of sales of artwork at other galleries for much more than we charge (for the same or similar pieces), and if the client knew who we were, they could have saved a lot of money.

What has been your proudest moment?

Neal: I would say that my personal proudest art moment in the business was when I put a collection of Matisse works together and listed it as a package of seven works by Matisse. It sold at full price in 3 days. I should do more of that! In terms of collecting, I would say my proudest moment was stealing an original Tarkay oil painting from a gallery in New York for $3,000.

Wendy: I’ve tried matting and framing some of the artwork that we’ve acquired. I was quite proud when a piece actually came out looking good!

What was the most difficult artwork to part with in all your years dealing?

Neal: A Sam Francis original work.

Wendy: Without regard to price or exclusivity, I was very sad to sell Isaac Maimon’s Cabaret from our private collection. It had been prominently displayed in our home since the late 90’s. I love everything about that image.

What has been your most memorable experience in the art world?

Neal: Visiting the Hermitage like five times. We have been to lots of museums all over the world, but that is my favorite followed by Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

What advice can you give to a first-time collector?

Neal: Love what you buy and avoid being concerned about the investment side of art in the beginning.

Wendy: It’s cliché but, buywhat you love. Period.

If you could own any artwork, what would it be and why?

Neal: The Mona Lisa because it would eliminate much of the foot traffic at the Louvre. The place is too busy!

Wendy: I actually already own it. In the early 1960s, my grandmother commissioned a large abstract oil painting from an unknown local artist in Chicago using the colors that were prominent in her apartment. I was mesmerized by that piece as a child, and it still gives me great joy to see it every day hanging on my wall.

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