Devotees of the fine arts and even finer acting will hurry to the Metropolitan Museum of Art tonight or on June 27 for a staged reading of Simon Gray’s 2004 play “The Old Masters.” Gray’s opus portrays a stormy encounter between two Jewish art experts, Bernard Berenson (born Bernhard Valvrojenski in present-day Lithuania) and the dealer Joseph Duveen, of Dutch Jewish origin.
As readers of S.N. Behrman’s tasty “Duveen,” reprinted in 2003 by NYRB Classics; Meryle Secrest’s 2004 “Duveen: A Life in Art” from University Of Chicago Press, and John Brewer’s 2009 “The American Leonardo: A Tale of Obsession, Art and Money” from Oxford University Press know, Duveen was burdened by few scruples in his fierce hondling.
From 1907 and for three decades afterward, the refined, highly accomplished connoisseur Berenson profited by taking a percentage from Duveen’s sales for which his authoritative opinion was used to convince prospective buyers, a source of income that today would be looked on askance in the art world.
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