11 May 2009

Joseph Duveen, art dealer extraordinaire

Joseph Duveen (1869-1947) was born in 1869 in Hull in Yorkshire, the eldest son of Dutchman Joel Duveen. With brother Henry, Joel had founded a busi­ness dealing with paintings and porcelain. On the death of his father in 1908, Joseph took control of the company.

Bernard Berenson (1865-1959) left Lithuania and eventually ended up near Florence. He was regarded as the primary authority in the world on Renaissance art. Joseph Duveen lov­ed pictures and knew a lot about British art, but was not an acad­emic. Ber­enson was not a smart busi­nessman, but he had a taste for a very exp­ensive lifestyle. So it was sens­ible that the two men should get together in a partner­ship.

Ber­enson found and authenticated pict­ures for Duveen and Duveen paid him a share of his firm’s profits. Duveen used Beren­s­on's credibility to sell pictures to the wealthiest collec­tors, especially people who had formerly worked with Berenson eg J Pierpont Morgan and Joseph Wid­ener. Ber­enson contributed to the first is­s­ue of Art in America 1913, which Duveen funded to educate Americans in European art.

Duveen was a skilled entrepreneur, an impass-ioned man who really did love art. A great many of his clients had come from nothing and made great fortunes. Duveen met them when they were in their spending mode, in their efforts to raise themselves up, to manifest that sense of nobility that surged in many families, flush with money for the first time. Joseph Duveen made his fortune by buying works of art from dec­l­ining European aristocrats and selling them to the million­aires of the USA. He attracted or went after the biggest of the big rich Am­er­ican art collectors in the early C20th. Otto Kahn, Jules Bache, Andrew Mellon, Henry & Arabella Huntington, William Randolph Hearst, Samuel H Kress, John D Rock­efeller Jr, Anna Dodge, P.A.B Widener, Benjamin Altman, Marj­orie Meriwether Post, JP Morgan, Isab­ella Stewart Gardner, and Henry Clay Frick were frequent buyers at Duveen’s galleries.

Turner, View of Venice: Ducal Palace 1841

Henry Clay Frick was older than Duveen, a Pitts-burgh resident who had already made a huge fortune. He was not highly cultured al­though he developed an interest in art. By the time he was rich, in the 1880s, he was buying art but not with much taste or confidence. Frick moved to New York and rented the Vand­erbilt Mans­ion at 640 Fifth Ave where WH Vanderbilt had his huge art gallery. Occasionally he bought something through Duveen but for years Frick bought most of his works of art from Rene Gimpel and Michael Knoedler, Duveen’s arch-rivals. But by 1915 as the mansion on Fifth Av and 70th St was going up, he needed lots of art objects to put in it.

JP Morgan had one of the greatest private art collections in America. Among the items Morgan had bought in London were 14 Jean-Honore Fragonard panels, bought from Thomas Agnew firm for a huge price. An opportunity came to Duveen in 1913 after Morgan’s death. Some thought his collection would go to the Met. But Morgan wanted them to dedicate a wing, named for him, in exchange for the collection. When this did not occur, he left the art to his heirs. Jack Morgan decided to sell much of his father’s collection, but first there was a large exhibition of Morgan art loaned to the Met. Then the panels were removed from the Prince’s Gate room, and shipped to New York. Frick bought the panels and installed them. Duveen also bought 1400 pieces of porcelain art from the JP Morgan estate in 1919, for a huge price. This collection also went to Frick.

Duveen made his own luck. He bought Turn­er’s View of Venice: Ducal Palace from a Br­it­ish col­l­­ector in 1925, without having a client in mind. He sold it to Mrs Elizabeth Severance Allen Prentiss later that same year!

Giorgione, Adoration of the Shepherds c1500

Duveen had a great relationship with Henry Huntington. Duveen offered Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie 1794 to Mellon, but at that stage he was secretary of the treasury and did not want to be known publicity as spending as much money as Pinkie cost. So Duveen then offered the painting to Huntington and was accepted. Mellon later wanted Pinkie, but Huntington refused to give up the painting.

Duveen managed the crisis in the art market that followed the Great Depression in 1929. There were some art objects that he sold 2-3 times. He sold Remb­randt’s Aris­­totle Contemplating the Bust of Homer to Arabella Hun­tington in 1907. At her death, her son, who inherited the painting, sold it back to Duveen. The picture went to McCann-Erickson Adv­ertising firm, for $750,000. In the 1929 crash Alfred Erickson went to Duveen’s gallery; Joseph bought the painting back for $500,000. When times got better, Duveen sold the painting to Erickson again, for barely any profit.

Gainsborough, The Blue Boy, 1770

Joseph Duveen was the adviser to Arabella Huntington on design and furnit­ure. Behrman said Henry and Arabella Huntington saw a rep­ro­d­uction of Blue Boy 1770 in 1921, during a transatlantic cruise with Duveen. Duveen went on to England, heading straight to the home of the Duke of Westminster, from whom he bought The Blue Boy, another Gains­bor­ough and a Reynolds for $800,000. He sold The Blue Boy to the Hunt­ingtons and they were utterly delighted.

Fin­ancier Andrew Mellon was treasury secretary to 3 successive USA presidents from 1921-32, as well as a collector. After Mellon was no longer treasury secretary, the USA government took him to court for tax evasion. Duveen spoke for Mellon in court and revealed Mellon’s plan to donate all his coll­ection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the construction of which he would also underwrite. Mellon was apparently as surprised as the judge.

The Duveen/Berenson relationship was never an easy one, nor was it known about in public. Anger between them finally peaked over Ador­ation of the Sheph­erds. Owned by Baron Allendale, Duv­een wished to sell it to his best and richest client of the moment, Andrew Mellon. To do so, and to obtain the price that he wished, he needed an att­rib­ution to young Venetian artist Giorgione. There is no dispute over the artistic value of Adoration of the Shepherds; just who paint­ed it. Berenson believed it was an early Titian and would not be moved by Duveen’s begging, thus severely lowering. Mellon had many Titians and did not want another one; he wanted only a Giorgione!

Meryle Secrest asked did Duveen deliberately and knowingly lie in order to boost prices? It’s possible that as a careful businessman he tended to exaggerate things and to ig­nore doubts, but he never lied. After all, Mellon and Frick were sharp businessmen who knew which way was up. They bought what Duveen sold them because they trust­ed him and trusted his prices. Kress always liked to bargain, but he too happily bought Duveen’s art treasures. Anne Goldgar, King’s College London, states that as with all art sellers, even the most respected engaged in practices that are now open to question. Any valuation of art was sub­jective and so the seller would always inflate the price.

Rembrandt, Aristotle Contemplating Bust of Homer 1653

Duveen DID create a change in the price of artwork and in the Amer­ic­an art world. But modern articles that suggest he faked Renaissance paintings to rip off naïve American millionaire coll­ect­ors are simply nasty and ahistoric. The Dictionary of Art Histor­ians called him aggressive and shady. The Daily Blague blog said in Duveen that he was a man of great culture, but was best underst­ood as a vir­us that found its window of opportunity. The Metropolitan Museum of Art itself, boasting the Bernard Altman collection that Duveen as­s­embled, would be a far poorer place without the legacy of Duveen’s opportun­ism. But I personally don’t think he was any more of an opport­un­ist than any other professional art dealer.

More of his treasures are in the USA (c1,000 items) today than in Britain. Still, Elginism blog wrote in Lord Duveen (dec 2004) that he made a huge con­t­rib­ution to the British art world in the C20th. Not only was he resp­on­sible for the funding of numerous galleries, but his methods of dealing in artworks largely defined the way that the art market oper­ates today. Joseph Duveen was actively involved in numerous art organisations and served as a trustee for the National Gallery, London; the Wallace Collection and the Imperial Gallery of Art Lond­on. He founded the British Art­ists Exhibitions Organisation for the encouragement of younger Brit­ish artists. He provided for extensions of London museums, such as the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate, Univ­ersity of London and the British Museum.

For his services to the art world and to philanthropy, Duveen he was knighted in 1919 and late he was made a Baron, in 1933. He was called Lord Duveen of Millbank, the area of London in which the Tate sits. He died in London in 1939.
Duveen Gallery British Museum, to display Elgin Marbles

The Chicago Blog said that it is no exaggeration to say that Duv­een was the driving force behind every important private art collection in the USA (see WSJ's pick for art collectors: Duveen). He dominated the market in old master paintings and European decorative arts from late 19th–mid C20th. His client­ele were large­ly US million­air­es who were then emerging as maj­or figures in the world art market. Duveen played an important role in selling robber barons on the notion that buying art was also buy­ing class. With Bernard Berenson’s aid, he expanded the market, especially for Renais­sance art.

Because of Duveen’s personal gifts to museums, his major American buyers eventually donated their own collections to American public museums. The works that Duveen shipped across the At­lantic remain the core collections of many of the USA's most famous museums. But more than that. "Without the central influence of Duveen and other art deal­ers, many American collectors would have left museums lots of Fr­ench salon paintings and Victoriana.


Jim Puzinas said...

Excellent post. having read the book "Duveen" several years ago, it was great to revisit why I enjoyed the book so much. Thanks again.

Hels said...

Hels said...

Thanks Hermes [Victorian Paintings blog] for your post on "Christopher Wood".

I have been very taken up with the role of art dealer, critic, historian and collector in the 1850-1939 era. I’ve been particularly interested in Bernard Berenson, Joseph Duveen, Nathan Wildenstein, Geoffrey Agnew, Paul Cassirer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and others because they changed the way people saw art and bought art.

Christopher Wood did exactly the same thing exactly for Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian art, Arts and Crafts and even Gothic. We may not all enjoy Gothic revival, but it was certainly time for the Victorian era to be reassessed.

Hermes has left a new comment on the post "Christopher Wood":

What a good comment. He certainly made me look at their paintings with new eyes.

Unknown said...

Duveen's art dealings with
Alfred Erickson was very interesting. Alfred Erickson is my great Uncle and seems to have quit a collection upon he and his wives passing. One peice inparticular was Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homor he bought back from his friend Duveen. It was then sold to the Ny Museum of Art in 61after my great aunt passed. Interesting tho 5 Colotype first editions were made from this oil painting as personal gifts to the family and interesting Mr. Duveens family. Can't help but wonder what these only colotype first editions made are worth today?
It would be very interesting to know since the Original is worth 50Ml today. He also left mother with a painting by J Stancin.
It is believed to be one of his finest peices of work. It's available for sale.

It's been a pleasure
Yes I agree with you that

Hels said...

Joan, that is amazing. I was at a conference yesterday, talking about Duveen, and sitting in the lecture theatre was another Duveen - Joseph's great nephew. Now today I find Alfred Erickson's niece. Blogging is wonderful, isn't it?

I think the importance of Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer was twofold: a] there were very few beautiful Rembrandts in the USA back then and b] it ended up in an important public collection. We can thank your family for that.

Keep in contact, if you can. I would love to know what other special art objects your family brought from Europe, whether via Duveen or not.