Born in Przenyśl, Poland, he grew up on the Upper West Side (Manhattan, New York City), attended Stuyvesant High School and Lafayette College, served in the US Army 1953-55, and worked at Goldman Sachs and in the oil business.
In 1968, he purchased French & Company, the art and antique dealer. In the early seventies, Martin was an agent for J Paul Getty, who reputedly said “Zimet is the limit”.
After a 1988 sale of decorative arts at Christie’s, Martin redirected the business towards Old Masters and 19th century paintings.
A regular auction attendee with Renate, his wife of 63 years who survives him, Martin’s firm exhibited at TEFAF for 20 years, making sales to the Louvre Museum, The National Gallery of Art and The Getty Museum.
For the last 40 years he ran the gallery from a modern town house on the Upper East Side.
With his leonine head, beard and flowing white hair, Martin looked like a Shakespearean actor. People remembered him, complimented his clothes, admired his cane, looked his way on Madison Avenue.
Martin had a boyish charm and pushed boundaries with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He was optimistic, curious and wise. He was a sport, ready to overpay at auction. “This is not a practice run” was a favourite saying.
Very little escaped his attention, from a new article of clothing to an errant shirttail. People were drawn to him and made an effort to please him. An accomplished schmoozer with an abundance of chutzpah, he would ask the waiter, taxi driver, nurse or barber where they were from. Though small in height, he was a big man with a round chest and skinny legs. A deep furrow crossed his forehead. He was easy to hide behind.
We worked together for nearly 40 years, challenging the record for consecutive lunches. We had an enduring covenant to the business and each other.
We loved our paintings. Each purchase was the start of a new romance, a new family member. He recognised my commitment, over-praised my successes and absorbed my mistakes.
We greeted clients in tandem, but he was the star, the family patriarch, my dearest possession and friend.
Martin was our Sun King.
From Henry Zimet (Martin’s son), French & Company