The Marquis de Custine, in his great book Russia in 1839, remarks, in connection with the military parades of which Tsar Nicholas I was inordinately fond, that tyrannies command immense efforts to bring forth trifles. I confess that this remark was often uppermost in my mind as I toured the Pinault Collection in the restored Bourse de Commerce in Paris: not, of course, that billionaires such as M. Pinault can properly be called tyrants.

François Pinault is one of the richest men in France, even the world, with a fortune estimated at about $50 billion. No doubt it is difficult to know how to use such a fortune constructively (a problem that I have never had to face), but to the extent that M. Pinault has used it to collect contemporary art, I...


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