Rogues’ Gallery: A History of Art and Its Dealers by Philip Hook - review by James Stourton

James Stourton

Oily Characters

Rogues’ Gallery: A History of Art and Its Dealers


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Nobody reading this book will ever feel confident walking down Bond Street again. Art dealers have usually had a bad press: either they exploit artists – Marcel Duchamp called them ‘lice on the backs of the artists’ – or use a customer’s ignorance to their own advantage. However, at times Philip Hook makes the art market sound even more mendacious than it is, which is quite an achievement. The truth is that he enjoys rogues – he calls the early 20th-century dealer Joseph Duveen ‘thrillingly dishonest, intoxicating in his bravado’. This is a gossipy book that could only have been written at the end of a career. The tone is arch and confidential, and Rogues’ Gallery is full of worldly asides. Reading it is quite like being taken to dinner at Wilton’s by a grand, rather naughty godfather in the art trade and being told, ‘My boy, there are sharks out there, but it’s all terrific fun.’

There is a serious side as well. Hook asks pertinent questions. How far does an art dealer influence what works a collector buys? How far does an art dealer influence what an artist actually paints? And how far has the promotion of one artist or movement over another

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