I'm not an art connoisseur by any stretch, although I do have my tastes and don't mind the occasional museum stroll. I love history and I love a good story. When you combine art, history and terrific storytelling, you come out with a book like "The Art Detectives" by Philip Mould.
The book is structured around 6 specific paintings, and the mysteries that surround/surrounded them. Mould is a fantastic writer. He's clear, concise and sometimes poetic. It's an odd thing to focus on when considering a work of non-fiction, but his writing is as expressive and pronounced as anything I've read recently.
Mould avoids the pretension, condescension and patronizing tone that one might expect from a book on high art. And surprisingly, each story is a strong tale in and of itself. At their best, they are very personal, human and touching. At their worst, they're simply good mysteries that Mould unravels layer-by-layer with a blending of personal insight, relevant experiences, historical background and significance. And it all flows beautifully through his solid prose and storytelling abilities.
The strongest tale is of Moulds' meetings with an eccentric hoarder named Earle Newton. The story ranges from their first interactions, to their first and subsequent visits. Newton is more of an "ammasser" than he is a collector, and the real heart of the narrative is Newton's wackiness and the impact of his hoarding on his family.
Family is also at the heart of a story that centers on a well known art deception (and recovery) of a Norman Rockwell painting. After subtle clues circulate around Rockwell's "Break Home Ties", two brothers hunt for the truth of whether their father owned a real Rockwell, and whether or not he knew it was a fake.
Mould does an amazing job of making art history accessible and interesting. All of his stories involve the detective work required to identify what is genuine and authentic from what is a pretender. Mould is both eloquent and passionate in "Mystery of the Missing Gainsborough" and "The Rembrandt in Disguise". Tudor England is the focus of "A Queen in Distress", and colonial Caribbean in "A Winslow Homer Lost and Found" as Mould turns art and history into compelling mysteries.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to readers of history, mysteries and certainly art.
Note: I received "The Art Detectives" as part of the Goodreads First Read program.
Philip Mould takes a wonderfully interesting look at how art restoration works. But, in looking at restoration of existing paintings, he also delves into how he, as a gallery owner, along with his team, find work that has remained under-valued or unvalued for centuries. And then how that piece, now restored by Mould's experts, ventures back into the art world in renewed glory.
Mould, an appraiser for the BBC's "Antique Roadshow", is also an owner of a gallery in London which specialises in antique portraits. As an aside, I have visited the gallery in the past to see his collection but did not know that this book was written by the gallery's owner until I read the credits. As a book reviewer, I have no reason to falsely rave about his book, even though I have enjoyed visiting his gallery. I suppose that being a fan of antique portraits gave me the impetus to read and review the book, however.
Mould takes five or so examples of "found" paintings - one from his "Antique Roadshow" - and writes how instinct and education about a painter, his other work, the painting's subject's history, and other "intangables' go into Mould and his staff taking on an often dirty and undistinguished painting on the chance that the painting is "the real thing" - a real Rembrandt, a real Homer Winslow, etc. Probably the most interesting story was that of a Norman Rockwell painting on display at the Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts that...wasn't. Wasn't the "real" Rockwell painting, but rather one done by a disciple of Rockwell, who copied the original for reasons sort of murky, and donated to the museum. The "real" Rockwell was found by the copier's sons after his death and turned over to the museum.
The other examples Mould cites are almost as interesting. Each is a story in-and-of-itself, and most end conclusively. The last painting in the book, that of a Winslow Homer, "found" in Ireland of all places, has
been the subject of ownership dispute which have not been worked out yet.
Mould's book is a wonderful read for those interested in art history and in art restoration. Some of the paintings found did not need massive restoration but a few did and Mould recounts the intricacies of physical restoration. Not a long book, Mould makes the most of his subject with descriptions and interviews with his fellow art historians and sellers.
I listened to the audio book version of the book and I found it interesting yet frustrating. Some of the stories were quite interesting but getting there took some time. I was expecting many case studies with shorter time spent on each one. I lasted till I was about half way through the book. That's when the author started to talk about Rembrandt and it went round and round there for a long while without getting to the meat of the story (therefore my reference to "breading"). I just gave up. I know the book got very good reviews from other readers, but it just wasn't my cup of tea.
on October 11, 2010
Considering that I have just finished my series of posts on Portraits as Art Market Currency, I think it is rather fitting that I post a review of a book about the exploits of a British portrait dealer - a book that I absolutely loved reading and want to encourage everyone else to read. Seeking out works of art that he suspects have hidden secrets has taken world renowned portrait expert and art world super sleuth Philip Mould OBE all over the world on exciting journeys of discovery and enlightenment. His latest book titled `The Art Detective: Fakes, Frauds, and Finds and the Search for Lost Treasures' is a collection of case histories that provide a fascinating insight into the sleuthing escapades of the art world's answer to Sherlock Holmes. From the identification of a long lost Winslow Homer recovered from a rubbish dump, to the discovery of an amazing early work by Gainsborough that was misattributed to a "follower of Jacob van Ruisdael", Mould's true tales of art world investigation introduce the reader to a world of kookie characters and perturbing mysteries.
If you are a fan of the UK Antiques Roadshow then you have probably seen Mould giving valuations to hopeful visitors and would be aware of his position as a valuer of fine art. Die hard Antiques Roadshow fans will also know that Mould gave the first one million pound valuation for a design model of Antony Gormley's Angel of the North sculpture which appeared on the 16 November 2008 episode. What you perhaps didn't know about Mould is that he has made his mark on art history by breathing new life into damaged or misidentified portraits. In the hands of Mould and his team, paintings that once languished in obscurity are given the artistic and historical recognition they deserve.
Part memoir and part thriller, `The Art Detective' has all the elements of a Le Carre spy tale - drama, suspense and intrigue - combined with rare glimpses into the usually secretive world of those involved in the detection of fine art fakes, forgeries and misattributions. As well as being extremely entertaining, Mould also provides fascinating and educational glimpses into the social and cultural histories that are an integral part of the objects that he deals with. The latest foray into the Mould files is a thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking read that will not only delight anyone interested in fine art, but also anyone who enjoys a good spy thriller.
When I met Philip Mould for the first time I was really impressed with how passionate he was about what he does - a characteristic that really shines through in his writing. Many of the art books that I have read, and history books as well for that matter, are filled with pretentious ramblings that give the impression that the author is just trying to prove how well educated they are, but with `The Art Detective' one gets the strong impression that for Mould, his work is a labor of love that is more about the art than self promotion. I can honestly say that `The Art Detective: Fakes, Frauds, and Finds and the Search for Lost Treasures' is one of the most interesting and entertaining books on fine art that I have ever read and I encourage everyone who reads this post to get yourself a copy now.
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of [...], writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications
on July 2, 2015
“The Art Detective” by Philip Mould is a fascinating, entertaining, insightful look into the world of art galleries, discovery, restoration, dealing, collecting, and, to some extent, the creative process.
Each of the six chapters is a well-written account focusing on the author’s own adventure involving the discovery of an important work of art: a hoard of old British portraits in Vermont, a Gainsborough, a Norman Rockwell, a Rembrandt, a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I (and another of Henry VIII’s brother, Arthur), and a Winslow Homer watercolor.
Without revealing “spoilers”, the text covers the business aspects of dealing in masterpieces far beyond a purely financial perspective: it also addresses the issues of fakes and forgeries, theft, auctions, and the personalities and relationships of collectors, dealers, historians, art subjects, and artists themselves. Mr. Mould recognizes, “Great artists are also risk takers; they constantly push the boundaries of illusion, like ambitious magicians” (page 61).
The text is greatly enhanced by two sections of carefully chosen and well-reproduced photographs -- about 35 pictures in all – that really bring the very visual subject of this book to life. The index is also helpful.
As usual, I’m pointing out a few (specifically five, primarily typographical / grammatical) things that could be “corrected” in future editions:
Page 86: In a sentence that reads, “An intern at the auction house, despite been given a fax…”, maybe “been” should be changed to “being”? This could just be a difference in American / British English usage…After all, it is said that Britain and America are “two nations divided by a common language”.
Page 109: For readability, the first sentence of the paragraph beginning with “When Rockwell arrived here in 1939” could have its punctuation modified: maybe move the closing dash after the italicized “Saturday Evening Post”, and change the current closing dash to a colon.
Page 165: A sentence that recounts dialogue by Ernst van de Wetering begins with, “But during the forty years of my life between 1948 and 1998”, it seems “forty” should be changed to “fifty” (or either change 1948 to 1958, OR 1998 to 1988).
Pages 194 / 195: Discussion of a portrait being offered by Sotheby’s with an estimate of between £700,000 and £1 million (as noted on page 196), is prefaced by Mr. Mould’s recollection of having seen the same painting two years earlier for sale by Christie’s South Kensington, which he seems to have purchased and re-sold; on page 194 the Christie’s estimate is stated as £6,000 to £8,000, but on page 195 the author expresses being “very pleased when it was knocked down to me for £43,000”. Maybe I’m just confused, but there may be a misplaced comma or decimal point in there somewhere….
Page 207: In a sentence that begins with “Henry VIII was briefly succeed by his son,” it seems as if “succeed” should perhaps be changed to “succeeded”.
Anyway, I highly recommend this thoroughly enjoyable book written by someone who clearly loves his work. His enthusiasm is communicated in a way that makes for riveting reading.
on January 2, 2016
An amazing amount of knowledge and insight into art and the machinations of the art world and collectors. While the stories move slowly at times, the author creates such a setting and mood around each one that I couldn't stop reading. If he published another book of this type, I'd read it, too. He enlarged my vocabulary and understanding and taught so much I didn't know I didn't know. An entertaining read!
on October 10, 2011
An enjoyable light read by art dealer Philip Mould about mishandled, misidentified or rediscovered paintings, most of which he was personally involved with. Mould has created a blend of narrative and information, personal experience and objective fact, which is very readable. I particularly enjoyed the insight into issues faced by art dealers and restorers. I occasionally found his prose a little clunky, but that never seriously detracts from the book.
Philip Mould, one of the engaging intrepid experts on Antique Roadshow UK, gives the reader a short, intriguing book of art restoration and art re-discovery centered on his own experiences as a London based art dealer of English portraits. His six stories deal with Thomas Gainsborough, Rembrandt, Winslow Homer, a suspect portrait of Elizabeth I, his encounter with an eccentric New England collector/hoarder and a questionable painting by Norman Rockwell. Charged with the excitement of the chase, Mould, a mystery writer at heart, builds the stories on biographical insight, pace, his own expertise, his contacts in the art world, occasionally using the argot of the antiques world (dendrochronology), his extensive English lexicon (hoick, tronie, boffin, etc.) and the inclusion of superb color photographs of the paintings he writes about. I enjoyed every page of this wonderful book.
on March 25, 2014
Actually it is less about the TV series than it is about how art is evaluated and discovered. Art is one of the few, if not only, commodities whose value is based on an odd combination of science and 'expert' opinion. If you have ever scratched your head over the reason one painting is worth millions and another a few thousand Mr Mould does a masterful job (pun intended) of explaining it.
on July 10, 2011
I thought the subject matter in this book very interesting, but the author has the unfortunate habit of patronising the people he describes in his stories and at times he can be quite polishingly snide. This could be ignored if it was just the occasional comment drawn out of dislike, but it's repeated to the point of beginning to grate (on me anyway.)
The author even does it to Ernst ven de Wetering, a highly respected Rembrandt expert and a truly superb art scholar. To need to deflate other peoples reputations to bolster your own is just poor character in my opinion.
Apart from that the information is carefully prepared and presented in the level-headed and 'respectable' approach that you would expect from an antiques roadshow expert and gallery owner.
I don't like this mans attitude, but the book is worth reading for the case studies if you're really into this kind of thing. -
I also disliked the fact that in the picture section of this book - the copy of Rockwells 'Home Ties' is deliberatly printed from a poor quality photograph to make it look more 'fake'. If you produce a book called 'The Art Dectective', mention 'fakes' in the title and produce pictures of them - it's only fair that you let people decide for themselves how good or not they are. He did a similar thing in his two portrayals of a gainsborough portrait by placing the one he 'discovered' at a poor angle so that the newly cleaned version looked much better and authentic. It's an old publishing trick but still not one you would expect from a genuine author.
The author has however, reprinted and re-named this book with the Rockwell picture on the new cover (I assume it's the same book as amazon has combined the reviews for both) so perhaps the blurred picture was a mistake (although I can't see whether the reprinted cover is the rockwell copy or original because I only have the old book and the amazon screen image is too small to see) but even so, the authors treatment of the people he describes in his hunts, spoiled it for me.
I recommend this book to art lovers, historians, students etc, but don't take it as an unbiased view - in my opinon it's more of a treasure hunting experience journal from someone trading in the art world.