Art history Rogues’ Gallery
Philip Hook (Profile Books, £20)
Philip hook’s career in the art world since 1963, moving from Christie’s to sotheby’s as a dealer, has well-qualified him to write a popular history of the trade. he’s a genial observer and a fluent writer with the novelist’s ear for a good story. This is not a work of deep original research and he touches lightly on the early period to concentrate on the 19th and 20th centuries, but it’s a very welcome summary of much of the work that has been undertaken on art dealing.
We are made aware of just how little changes in method as in motivation and the sad truth of Frank Lloyd of Marlborough Fine Art’s dictum: ‘There is only one measure of success in running a gallery: making money. Any dealer who says it’s not is a hypocrite or will be closing his doors.’
By no means all dealers are rogues, but there have been some spectacular ones. The letters of William Buchanan around the turn of the 19th century are full of references to bribing Royal Academicians to support his attributions and unflattering assessments of his clients, for example, ‘the lecherous old Dog is not likely to send a Venus and Cupid begging… We must lose no time as old men sometimes die’. This was a man who termed himself ‘entrepreneur’ rather than vulgar ‘dealer’.
Mr hook writes particularly well about Durand-ruel and the launch of impressionism, but i would like to have learned more about its relaunch in the 1950s. For obvious reasons, the book deals lightly with dealers active today, which perhaps accounts for its overemphasis on Peter Wilson of sotheby’s, who, as an auctioneer, may well have been an entrepreneur, but was not overtly a dealer. Perhaps after another decade we might hope for a further volume on the Lloyds, Paces, Greens, Gagosians, saatchis and Joplings. Huon Mallalieu