DUVEEN: A Life in Art

Meryle Secrest, Author . Knopf $35 (544p) ISBN 978-0-375-41042-0

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. Agent, Lynn Nesbit. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/09/2004
Release date: 09/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 517 pages - 978-0-226-74415-5
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