Art his­tory Rogues’ Gallery

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

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

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