January 17, 2005

An interesting book: Duveen

Every so often, I pick up a totally random book and read it. Not a hard thing to do, since I just read that 500 books a day are published in these United States. This time, I picked up a book when I was a little drunk. I was in the library of a private club, after dinner, and I borrowed a book. A book I had no recollection of borrowing the next day. Well, by which I mean, I remembered borrowing a book but had no recollection of the subject matter of the book. I'm glad I borrowed it, it was really a great read. It's called: Duveen. Duveen chronicles the story of Joseph Duveen, the most successful dealer in art and Old Masters to ever hit the field. Duveen sold to Frick, Morgan, Rockefeller, Huntington, Post, Dodge, etc. He sold some of the most celebrated paintings ever to grace our shores and he sold some of the most expensive fakes and dogs, too.

One episode in this book that stood out for me was the recounting of the sabotage and assassination attempts by Germany in WW I. Apparently, there was great anger over the US funding of British war efforts early in the war and there was a movement afoot in Germany to kill the bankers, like Morgan, who were coordinating the lending. The view was to kill the bankers would kill the credits and choke Britain off completely. In fact, over the Fourth of July weekend, 1915, a man who gave his name as "Frank Holt" broke into the Morgan residence and tried to kill Morgan, shooting him twice. Holt was also responsible for leaving a bomb in the US Senate, next to the office of the Vice President. The bomb went off and made quite a mess. Holt, however, was not really Holt. According to that link above:

He was German-born Erich Muenter, and he was wanted in Cambridge, Mass., for poisoning an earlier, pregnant wife with arsenic in 1906. An unidentified Chicago source told The Times that Muenter took his two children and his dead wife's body to Chicago, where he left the children with his mother- in-law and had the body cremated. He left town and hid out in Mexico, where he worked as an accountant. He later reappeared in Texas as Frank Holt, married again in 1910 and had three more children.

Holt/Muenter committed suicide in the Nassau County jail before trial.

The Germans also attempted to sabotage US shipping during this period, convinced that passenger boats were carrying munitions for England.

Holt/Muenter was apparently involved in this as well since he had sent a letter to his wife warning her about explosions which were going to take place on several boats. The book suggests that for Holt/Muenter to have managed all of this, he would have had to have had accomplices. None have been identified.

Among the goals of the German agents was to paralyze the US economy. To that end, Franz von Rintelen, a Berlin banker and sabotage expert, sent over $4.5 million dollars to finance the placing of bombs in 35 merchant ships and to foment a strike at the Remington Arms plant. Von Rintelen worked for Franz von Papen, then military attache to the German embassy. Von Papen would go on to be Chancellor of Germany, later. Eventually, these activities resulted in the sinking of the Lusitania, which may have contained a "cigar" full of TNT in the bowels of the boat. Either way, the sinking of that boat by a German U-boat helped bring the US into WW I.

The book also contains a terrific appendix of the paintings sold by Duveen, where they are now, and what attribution they now bear. I may buy a copy of the book if only for this appendix!

One other interesting thing I learned from the book as about the existence of the Huntington Museum, in California, which contains the great paintings bought by Huntington from Duveen. I'd really like to get out there to see it one day.

Anyway, a throughly enjoyable read and I recommend it.

Posted by Random Penseur at January 17, 2005 03:42 PM

Heh. Sort of a closet "curtains" post there. ;-)

Posted by: Jim at January 18, 2005 01:45 PM

Huntington as well as the gardens are wonderful. If you get to the LA area, the Getty is a must see, particulary on a clear day. LACMA-LA county museum of art- is not shabby either, particularly with the tar pits nearby. And Venice beach has its own style!

Posted by: Azalea at January 18, 2005 04:53 PM
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