Book Review: Rogues' Gallery by Philip Hook

Mark Bench of Borro sent me a February Financial Times review of a book by Philip Hook called Rogues' Gallery, A History of Art and its Dealers. Since I am now limited/restricted in what I can use from the Financial Times, I found another review of the book in the Guardian.  A partial excerpt is posted in the block quote. It looks like an interesting read and shows how money has long played are part in the art market.

I just order a copy of the book.  Follow the source link below for the full review.

The Guardian reports
Philip Hook’s fascinating and elegantly written book is a close examination of the history of the art-money nexus and the middlemen – the art dealers – who make the connection. He guides us expertly through the very beginnings of dealership in the Renaissance – where there were agents and merchants selling art – and then, in the 17th century, he introduces one Hendrick van Uylenburgh of Amsterdam as possibly the first art dealer to whom we can properly apply the term. Uylenburgh employed Rembrandt in his workshop and effectively became his dealer, gaining him many commissions for portraits. Half of the 100 or so portraits Rembrandt painted were done in his four years with Van Uylenburgh, who had spotted a lucrative market.

Hook goes on to analyse the increasing complexities of the role of the European art dealer as the centuries move on until, arriving at the middle of the 1800s, we come across a world recognisable as almost contemporary in terms of its commercial aspirations, cash flow and aggressive business methods. Late Victorian art dealers such as Ernest Gambart, Joseph Duveen and the Wildensteins would give today’s Flash Harrys of the 21st century market more than a run for their money. They became extremely rich – and in the process made some of the artists they represented extremely rich. This relationship was the evolution of a Faustian pact between artist and dealer that was, even then, highly problematic. Marcel Duchamp described dealers as “lice”. Love them or loathe them, they became essential to artists.

But, as Hook takes pains to point out, not all dealers were venal exploiters of naive artists. Certain famous dealers changed the face of art history because they decided to champion artists and movements that were derided and, at the time, monetarily worthless. Hook cites, among others, Paul Durand-Ruel and the impressionists; Ambroise Vollard and his untiring support of Paul Cézanne; and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s steadfast boosting of cubism. Without these dealers’ persistence or belief in these scorned artists it can be convincingly argued that the history of art would have been very different. The dealers’ avant garde tastes were duly vindicated – and their risky ventures ended up making them fortunes. “It’s the old dilemma of the thinking dealer,” Hook writes, in relation to Léonce Rosenberg, who was, for a time, Picasso’s dealer, “which should predominate, art or money? There is an underlying sense that the two are in conflict. Art is a high-flown beautiful commodity. Money is sordid, but necessary. How to resolve it?”

Hook’s implicit answer is that it is always resolved in favour of money. Certainly, as the 20th century advanced, any Vollard-style “idealistic” dealing is harder to spot. Of course there have always been cultured and informed collectors and dealers, who follow their tastes and instincts and avoid the faddy and the tendentiously modish. But they were and are rare birds. As the international art market evolved and was transformed after the second world war, so the profit motive and the fame-quotient came to bear overwhelmingly on what was valued and therefore what had to be purchased and flaunted.
Source: The Guardian

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