Books October 2004
The insider’s insider
A review of Duveen: A Life in Art, by Meryle Secrest.
Joseph Duveen was born over his parents’ shop in the back streets of Hull in October 1869. He ended his days in London in 1939 as a member of the House of Lords, an ever-dexterous pillar of the art trade and a key figure in the evolution of the Tate Gallery. Meryle Secrest, the author of Duveen: A Life in Art, has for many years been directly or indirectly on the track of her subject. Duveen was born and bred to the art business. From his father, Joel Joseph Duveen, he inherited the eye, the memory, the passion for specialized knowledge, and the ability to dissemble. Never, for a moment, was he fooled. He was expected to make a mark by his early twenties, and he did.
If he was in a hurry to go to Holland, he got a ride on a Dutch fishing smack and came back with offers that enabled his employers to beat out the competition and make big profits. Already at twenty he knew the source of...
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