Life on Display

Behind the scenes with a private art dealer.


BETWEEN TWEETING, E-MAILING, and reality TV, privacy can be hard to come by these days. Yet Diane McManus Jensen, an accomplished art dealer, gallery owner, and author, works with some of the country’s top collectors, and, above all, they prize discretion. “I have sold many major paintings for well over a million dollars, by artists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pierre Bonnard, and John Singer Sargent, but sharing the details of these acquisitions would negate the very reason many collectors use a private dealer in the first place,” she says. In fact, most of the art she acquires never makes it to the public realm; instead, it’s exchanged between in-the-know collectors and dealers. “Waving your paddle around at auction is fine, but it’s not for everyone,” Jensen says.

Jensen opened her first gallery at 4 East Seventy-Seventh Street, in Manhattan, in 1993. (In art circles, it is simply called “Four.”) The venue got its name while occupied by the iconic Italian-born American art dealer Leo Castelli. Here, the ghosts of Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg inspired Jensen to lease the space. “After Leo moved downtown, Bunny Williams, one of New York’s premier interior designers, had the space until she outgrew it, and I took it over from Bunny,” she says.


Above, Diane McManus Jensen displays the work of fellow Michigander and now Martha’s Vineyard resident Meg Mercier. Below, the mahogany beds came from Jensen’s first home in Brookline; they were a bridal gift to the former owner, who married in 1912.

At the same time, Jensen opened another gallery in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, near her summer home in Aquinnah. To keep the two galleries running, she enlisted her entire family and packed her schedule full of appointments to help private collectors build their portfolios. And sometimes, she even took her show on the road. “I literally did a ‘trunk showing’ of a very special Frank Benson impressionist painting from the trunk of my car in the Bloomingdale’s parking lot because the buyer wanted it as a surprise for her husband,” Jensen says with a laugh.


Above, Jensen had to have this “extraordinary piece,” a tiny chair by Beatrice Wood. The fish plate is from the collection of artist John LaFarge, and the pitcher is from Pewabic Pottery. Below, her chandelier is an antiques-shop find from the entrance hall of a 19th-century house in Essex.

But while she loved the galleries, Jensen missed the joy of working with collectors at home. Now her 2,500-square-foot Brookline condo doubles as the exhibit space for Jensen Fine Arts. Here she displays a mix of contemporary and period art by double-hanging frames and shining spotlights on the best works. She often arranges the pieces by theme, and changes them frequently. One of her most prized works—a painting of putti—is by an unknown artist, and was purchased around the time she opened her New York gallery. “I just thought it was good luck for my new exciting venture, and it was,” she says.


Above, Jensen bought this American flag— made of tea-bag tags—on Bastille Day. Below, the art dealer’s first purchase as a newlywed more than 40 years ago, which she’s deemed the “King’s Chair,” was from an antiques shop in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

While privacy is key to Jensen’s success, she also strives to demystify art, hence her recent book, The Art of Collecting, An Intimate Tour Inside Private Art Collections, with Advice on Starting Your Own (Antique Collectors’ Club, 2010). As chairperson of the New England Committee of the Archives of American Art/Smithsonian Institution, Jensen works with notable collectors such as Alan Dershowitz, David Rockefeller, and William Koch, who invite readers of her book into their homes to view and discuss their art acquisitions. Her book also offers practical advice on framing, lighting, displaying, and buying art at auction. Jensen hopes that by sharing insights into how successful collections are built, she will inspire people with her passion for what she affectionately calls “living with art.”

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1 Flowers almost jump off the canvas of Adele Herter’s Azaleas, 1920.
2 Jensen came across these ginger jar lamps in an antiques shop on Charles Street and loved them so much that she placed a set in her family room and guest bedroom.
3 One-of-a-kind ceramics are showcased on the mantel, such as a circular vase by Boston potter Peggy Steinberg and an Arts and Crafts–style peacock vase from the historical Pewabic Pottery in Detroit, Michigan—a 50th birthday present from Jensen’s husband.
4 This sterling silver grooming set was a high school graduation gift from Jensen’s mother.
5 A detail of Sharon Friedman’s floor-to-ceiling acrylic-on-canvas piece Sunburst.
6 Jensen often arranges (and rearranges) pieces by theme to create “stories” within her open living space. Turn-of-the-century impressionist landscapes currently live in the family room, while modernist paintings by Anna Walinska accent the dining room.
Little Dancer by Margery Ryerson and A Portrait of a Young Boy  by Charles Hopkinson reveal Jensen’s love for children in art.
8 Jensen purchased this mirror while on vacation in Mexico.
9 Sentimental pieces are displayed along built-in shelves around the fireplace. The glassware collection was handed down by her mother, and she received the ceramic teapot from her sister and niece.