The secret lives of the great art dealers

APOLLO | Thomas Marks:

‘The maddest collector I have ever known’, ‘The art dealer who escaped penal servitude’, ‘The blackmailing of an expert’, and ‘Saved by the Camorra’. These are among the chapter headings in The Secrets of an Art Dealer (1937), James Henry Duveen’s cavalier account of the trade in ‘art treasures’ in the early decades of the 20th century. They transform art dealing into a sensation novel, or a giallo – promising that the thrill of buying, selling, and – in these pages – hoodwinking will be transferred from the participant to the eager reader. Duveen’s book is an extreme case, but the genre of the art dealer memoir does carry an expectation of revelation – that experiences and anecdotes which have been carefully stockpiled over the years will find their way into print, as the dealer’s cloak of discretion is at least partly shrugged off… Read more

Image: ‘Portrait of Ambroise Vollard’ (detail) (1908), Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Courtauld Gallery, London