From Wall Street to Main Street
Tarrytown art gallery owner Jean-Claude Canfin finds fulfillment in a new career.
Jean-Claude Canfin stands next to two paintings by Parisian artist Francoise Collandre; in the background is a painting by South Korean artist Lee Kui Dai.
Jean-Claude Canfin, 57, an effusive Frenchman with piercing blue eyes and an engaging smile, proudly shows off his gallery’s latest acquisitions: giant flowers, shimmering rainbows, and towering stick figures in the bright colors the Canfin Gallery is known for. Of course, the art is irresistible: it was created by his five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. Canfin is equally passionate about his stable of 15 (and growing!) international artists, whose work he shows on a rotating basis in his sun-drenched gallery in the heart of Tarrytown.
“I’m attracted to artwork that’s striking and vibrant,” Canfin says. While the works of painters and sculptors he exhibits come from all over the world, from America to Europe to Asia, they all have one thing in common: they are proven, established, widely collected, and of high quality. "I am always on the lookout for great art, whether I’m visiting galleries and museums or traveling around Europe.”
In operation since 2005, Canfin’s gallery is located inside a historic building that once housed a bakery and then a florist shop. Large, colorful paintings beckon passersby inside the mid- to late-1800s facade, where they are greeted by dramatic art set against stark white walls and illuminated by high-tech lighting and sun streaming in from large windows on two sides of the 1,500-square-foot space. While Canfin has preserved period details, including the original arches, tin ceiling, and a fireplace, he eliminated or reconfigured walls to “highlight the art and make the space easy to navigate.”
Canfin originally named his location Gallery du Soleil to reflect the sunny French milieu of his original artists and the recognizable brand name of the Cirque du Soleil, the artistic circus troupe of which he is a big admirer. He changed it to Canfin Gallery several years later to “make the gallery name more personal.”
While fully immersed in the art world today, Canfin started on a very different career path. Born in Douai, a small industrial town in northern France near the Belgian border, he studied financial securities, earning the equivalent of an MBA at the Institut d’Administration des Entreprises in Paris. After a stint at the French branch of Ernst & Young, the financial-services firm, in 1984 he was transferred to Manhattan. For the next 20-plus years, Canfin worked on Wall Street in various positions, including as managing director of the Capital Markets Division of Prudential Securities. During that time, he started visiting galleries and museums, both locally and while on trips to Europe—and discovered he had a “good eye” for art. The pieces he chose to buy for his own home were based on, he says, “emotion, a personal connection, and enhancing my home décor.”
While he always enjoyed the professional challenges in the financial field, Canfin was getting itchy to try something a little more creative. His “aha moment” took place during a 2004 vacation in Provence with his wife (who also hails from France and works in nonprofit social services). While there, he met an artist named Jean-Claude Vinolo, whom Canfin represented in the United States, and they spent the afternoon at the artist’s gallery talking. (Vinolo died five years ago.) “I told my wife, I think I have what it takes to run a place like Vinolo’s,” he recalls. He reasoned that he had the business background to make the venture financially profitable—and that it “would make me so happy to devote my emotion and passion running an art gallery.”
And then the hunt for gallery space commenced. While he’d looked at locations in Manhattan as well as in many towns in Westchester, Canfin found his perfect spot practically in his own backyard. “I had moved to Tarrytown in 1990, looking for a better quality of life. I was drawn to the town because of its thriving cultural community of antiques stores, theaters, restaurants, and businesses. An art gallery would fit right in. Plus, the geographic location, close to highways and the other rivertowns and within a historic and well-visited area, would ensure foot traffic.”
Wandering through his gallery, he points to a surrealist-style “trompe l’oeil” painting by Frenchman Bruno Mondot, mentioning he has a piece by the artist in his personal collection. “The artwork I choose for the gallery must be good enough to have in my own home,” he says. Canfin talks about his other gallery artists, including Southern California painter Kathleen Keifer, known for her iconic images of the area’s beaches, landscapes, and inhabitants; Jean Duquoc, an artist from Brittany whose landscapes are bursting with a firestorm of color; and Spanish-born Belgian sculptor Isabel Miramontes, whose lyrical bronze sculptures look as if they are infused with the wind. Reflecting the high caliber of the art, pieces average $6,000 to $8,000, with some selling for $20,000 or more.
In October, the gallery will feature artwork by Jean Triolet, who lives in Provence and paints light-filled villages, ports, and fields abundant with lavender and poppies. Then, in November, Florida native Rick Garcia's explorations of his Cuban heritage, which pay homage to the country’s history and mix in a pop contemporary look drenched in tropical sunlight, will be on display.
Canfin points out that while no two artists he exhibits are alike, they all blend well and have a certain synergy together. “The objective is to give a choice to people, and hopefully it will be more than one choice—it will be several choices. There really is nothing more gratifying than to get emails and phone calls from clients saying ‘I love my piece.’”
An avid art collector, freelancer Laura Joseph Mogil frequently writes about art and design for Westchester Home, Westchester Magazine, and the New York Times.
Photography by John O'Donnell