The Dealer as Sleuth: Philip Mould’s The Art Detective

Mould Philip. The Art Detective: Adventures of an Antiques Roadshow Appraiser. New York: [Harper Collins 2009] Penguin, 2010.

DSCN1318 - Version 18Just the book to read while travelling because each chapter is so self-contained. Mould writes personally and anecdotally about his experiences as a dealer in fine art, especially in the discovery and authentication of “lost” old masters. His love of his subject is infectious and some of his information fascinating. This is not a book of academic art history; it is at times, as its title suggests, more a collection of six “who dunnits?” but in this case, we are wondering Who painted it? Who is it? and Why? In keeping with his “detective” motif, Mould titles his chapters “The Case of the Hidden Hoard,” “The Mystery of the Missing Gainsborough,” “The Norman Rockwell Hoax,” “The Rembrandt in Disguise,” “A Queen in Distress,” and “A Winslow Homer Lost and Found.”

DSCN1318 - Version 13 The Art Detective allows us to share briefly in the rarefied world of art dealing and to learn a little about the techniques of restoration. In his introduction, Mould claims one of his book’s purposes is “to sketch a number of small scenes and figures by which it is possible to gain a sense of a much bigger composition filled with innumerable paths, dramas, challenges and characters.” His other purpose is “to highlight the temperaments and motivations of the dealers, art historians, historians, owners and restorers who are drawn to the pursuit of art for reasons of truth, profit or both” (28). He is successful.

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2 Responses to The Dealer as Sleuth: Philip Mould’s The Art Detective

  1. Jean Francois says:

    Thanks, M.V. This is another tome to add to my reading list, especially in light of my interest in art ! Your reviews entice one to rush out and place the books on hold at the library.
    Keep up the clear and informative writing.
    Best wishes

    • Thanks JF. Here’s an example of synchronicity. This afternoon, I was at the V & A at the exhibition Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts, and the Russian Tsars. One of the exhibits is one of the pictures discussed by Mould in the book: the Hampden Portrait of Elizabeth I.

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