The American Leonardo: A 20th-Century Tale of Obsession, Art and Money by John Brewer - review by Philip Mould

Philip Mould

The Real Deal?

The American Leonardo: A 20th-Century Tale of Obsession, Art and Money

By

Constable & Robinson 400pp £18.99 order from our bookshop
 

This is the true story of a picture, reputedly by Leonardo da Vinci, that first surfaced on the art market’s commercial radar in 1920 when it was offered by a small-time art dealer to Kansas City’s Art Institute. Like all good stories it has its champions and pariahs, and barely had the painting bobbed over the parapet when a petulant and territorial Lord Duveen, the most powerful art dealer of all time, pronounced it a fake in comparison to what he declared to be the original in the Louvre. The libel case that followed resulted in Duveen handing over $60,000 in damages.

The book follows the story of the often indefatigable attempts by the first owners, their progeny, and the numerous interested parties, as well as luminaries in the world of conservation, art history and connoisseurship, to argue for the picture’s genuineness. To this day it picture remains covertly retained

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