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By S.N. Behrman

A startling variety of masterpieces now in American museums are there a result of shrewdness of 1 guy, Joseph Duveen, paintings broker to John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Mellon, Henry Clay Frick, and William Randolph Hearst. In a sequence of articles initially released in The New Yorker, playwright S.N. Behrman conjures up the larger-than-life Duveen and divulges the wheeling and working, subterfuge, and lively drama in the back of the sale of nearly—but no longer quite—priceless Rembrandts, Vermeers, Turners, and Bellinis.

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It used to be reassuring. The Duveen millionaires had various levels of information in regards to the artists with whom they acquired partnerships. certainly one of Duveen’s consumers mounted his companions in his brain via chronological organization; of a painter whose dates have been 1471–1528 he stated with delight, ‘Well, then, he lived near to the time of the invention of America,’ and he felt that he had doubly bought him – that he may possibly write him off. They knew extra or they knew much less, yet they need to have realised that, regardless of what percentage directorships they held, they'd for ever be merely the junior companions of their newly received institutions with those memorialised shadows. probably they have been content material with the inferior place, content material to allow Raphael and Bellini and the others have the easiest of it. It used to be normally the for ever that they have been deciding to buy. and so they had maybe develop into uneasily conscious of the truth that the reputations in their new companions have been unambiguous in a fashion that their very own weren't, and maybe they was hoping that the mergers will be lustral. The painters could have been dissolute, yet they'd no longer been furtive; they may were impecunious, yet that they had controlled, via following their internal imaginative and prescient, to accomplish non secular solvency; they could have led degraded and imprecise lives, yet they'd survived as proud giants. for his or her latter-day companions, issues had began to develop into uncomfortable. They have been grilled concerning the machine-gunning of strikers; they have been virulently caricatured as exploiters of the negative; they have been requested sternly why they didn't move and examine the distress that used to be grinding out their fortunes; the very ownership of wealth used to be starting to be appeared with suspicion; there were a unexpected shift from idolatry to sour feedback. Their new companions had miraculously kept away from all this; for his or her ethical lapses the area had lengthy when you consider that forgiven them. And, peculiarly, they'd obtained what they sought after; that they had been themselves, they'd loved lifestyles, that they had been homosexual. What the wealthy males had gathered used to be slipping clear of them. As they elderly, as they felt futility and hostility remaining in round them, they longed passionately for the satisfied corporation, within the even darker areas forward, of those magical and safe and shiny colors. each person who observed Duveen within the final 5 years of his existence speaks of his impressive equanimity within the face of his frightful sickness. Osbert Sitwell has acknowledged that it used to be continually Duveen’s leader situation that everybody he got here in touch with must have a great time. either Berenson and Kenneth Clark have acknowledged that he used to be the best story-tellers they ever met. All in the course of his ailment, Duveen saved up the amiability and the story-telling. He might by no means admit that he was once greater than mildly sick. whatever of a connoisseur, he may account for the truth that at this era he not often ate whatever by way of announcing that the health practitioner had placed him ‘on just a little a diet’. a series smoker now forbidden to smoke, he labored out an creative gadget for protecting humans from providing him cigarettes, which he might have needed to refuse; he had an imitation cigarette made up of ivory, with an imitation mild on the finish of it made up of phosphorus, and saved it continually in his hand or among his lips, in order that he would seem to be smoking.

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