From Publishers Weekly
No one played the high-stakes game of buying and selling Old Masters better than Joseph Duveen, later Lord Duveen of Millbank, who dominated the world art market during the 1920s and '30s. Using the Duveen Brothers' archives, recently made public, biographer Secrest (Being Bernard Berenson) delves into the history of the storied firm, chronicling the career of the audacious entrepreneur who headed it during its heyday, selling Rembrandts, Titians and other costly artworks to the likes of Andrew Mellon, J.P. Morgan and Henry Clay Frick. Duveen was a consummate salesman whose ingenious strategies included a network of "spies" who reported on the lifestyles of his wealthy clients; when a great work of art came on the market, Duveen could determine which multimillionaire would most appreciate it and then cajole and flatter him into the purchase. Secrest paints an engrossing picture of the art-dealing world, fraught with intrigues, betrayals and lawsuits, to say nothing of fakes, forgeries and misattributions. She shows how Duveen maneuvered successfully in this perilous arena; while some of his contemporaries considered Duveen "up to every artful dodge," he probably never knowingly sold a fake. Sadly, his career ended with a giant misstep when he masterminded the overcleaning of the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum. Duveen's life makes a fascinating story, well told in this accomplished biography. Photos not seen by PW.
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How few of America's major museums would exist without the passion and zeal of art collectors and the dealers who advised them, and yet, how rarely their fascinating stories are told. Arts biographer extraordinaire Secrest has been waiting nearly 30 years for access to the off-limit archives of the legendary Duveen Brothers, immensely influential art dealers based in London, Paris, and New York. Her dream finally came true, and the result is a grandly entertaining tale. Secrest writes with great dash, discernment, bemusement, and admiration as she chronicles the early-twentieth-century divestment of European aristocracy of their precious art collections just as a coterie of competitive American tycoons began to build mansions and seek trophies. Who helped J. P. Morgan, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon purchase invaluable decorative art and old masters? Joseph Duveen, "the most spectacular art dealer the world has ever known." But to understand the impeccable and fearless Joseph, one must understand his visionary father, Joel, the firm's founder; the rivalrous dynamics of their large, ambitious family; and the wild vagaries of fortune that make the art world such a financial juggernaut. Forgeries, dramatic auctions, spying, bribery, brazen gambling, genuine quests for beauty, and hopes for immortality--Secrest revels in it all, and then marvels over how daring Duveen and his rapacious clients became philanthropists, filling museums with the precious works they so avidly acquired. Solid history rendered deliciously anecdotal and gossipy, this is serious fun. Donna Seaman
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