cover image The Eye: An Insider’s Memoir of Masterpieces, Money, and the Magnetism of Art

The Eye: An Insider’s Memoir of Masterpieces, Money, and the Magnetism of Art

Philippe Costamagna, trans. from the French by Frank Wynne. New Vessel, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-939931-58-0

“We talk about a person having an eye for something. I would like to talk about the fascinating and little known profession of being an ‘Eye,’” writes Costamagna, the director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Ajaccio, Corsica, at the start of this rollicking and erudite tour of the art world. The term eye describes the expertise of an art connoisseur who has the special ability to attribute artworks “at a glance,” Costamagna explains, pointing to the renown of his predecessors, such as art historian Robert Longhi, whose scholarship established Caravaggio as one of the major artists in the Italian Renaissance. The majority of the book focuses on Costamagna’s own career devoted to seeking out and authenticating the work of the Old Masters. He reminiscences about finding one of Louis XIV’s court paintings hanging in the Coco Chanel Suite at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, and the time he discovered a lost masterpiece by the Italian mannerist Pontormo but made the “terrible mistake” of not including in it in a catalog on Pontormo because “it looked strange.” Amid these colorful anecdotes are glimpses into private collections of Costamagna’s elite acquaintances as well as the some of the more unpleasant aspects of his profession, such as the competition amid the art world’s many gatekeepers. Costamagna’s candor and well-earned hubris make for an entertaining foray into the high-stakes art world. (Aug.)