Mega-Dealers and Tastemakers: Bringing European Masterpieces to America
British art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen once said, “Europe has a great deal of art, and America has a great deal of money.” Indeed, all major European art dealers from the late 19th-and early-20th centuries benefitted from America’s new upper class who had a thirst for European culture and bottomless bank accounts, resulting in a buying competition to acquire the best painting, objects, and even whole room fittings.
Thousands of European artworks were brought to America. A mixture of need, greed and punitive inheritance duties imposed on the British aristocracy contributed to the flood of old master paintings into the United States. Dealers provided a market for cash-strapped British aristocrats trying to sell off family heirlooms, which conferred art historical credentials and an aura of sophistication onto American buyers.
Scholar and art dealer, Angus Haldane will examine art dealers Duveen, Colnaghi, Knoedler and Agnew and illustrate their role in the “paint drain” of masterpieces from Europe to America. Sales included a few turkeys, pot boilers and even some fakes that traveled from British country houses to the “New World.”
We will learn about the sales of masterpieces from National Trust estates, including a Gainsborough landscape “lifted” from Anglesey Abbey; a Velasquez portrait “hijacked” from Kingston Lacy, a Botticelli “wrangled” from Ashburnham Place; and a Rembrandt self-portrait “smuggled” out of Montagu House. Angus will also explore the role of art historian Bernard Berenson, and his struggle between personal profit and the ethics of connoisseurship in these transactions.