The American Leonardo A Tale of Obsession, Art and Money

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-10-05
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
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Though beauty is in the eye of the beholder, authenticity is in the eye of the expert. Or is it? That was the issue at stake when in 1919 a returning doughboy named Harry Hahn and his French bride Andree attempted to sell what they thought was a genuine Da Vinci in New York. Renowned art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen declared the picture--La Belle Ferronniere--a fake without ever seeing the canvas. The Hahns sued Duveen for slander, setting off a legal battle that would embroil the art world for decades. In The American Leonardo, John Brewer uses this high drama as a vehicle to reveal how authority, expertise, and value are all culturally derived and situated. The trial of the Hahn Belle raised larger questions about how attributions are made, how they affect both the status and value of art works, and how the entire system of art dealers, curators, and connoisseurs authenticates works of art. In the early twentieth century new methods of scientific analysis developed, which meant that for the first time, the critical eye of the connoisseur had to contend with an emerging array of scientific and forensic tests that (however crude in their inception) promised a degree of objectivity and reliability unattainable before. Brewer shows how the tension between the two methods of attribution lay at the heart of the Hahn La Belle dispute, which continues to this day. For artists and art-lovers, collectors and curators--and for anyone who's ever stood in front of a painting and wondered about its story--The American Leonardo offers a discerning and entertaining view into the art world as it tries to separate Old Masters from modern mountebanks. Praise for John Brewer's The Pleasures of the Imagination: "Like all really original achievements, it makes us sharply rethink things we supposed we knew well." -Simon Schama "Lively A sea change in historical writing." --Peter Ackroyd, The Times

Author Biography

John Brewer is Professor of Humanities at CalTech University and author of The Pleasures of the Imagination, among other works.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Illustrationsp. ix
Introductionp. 1
The American Scenep. 10
The Culture of Connoisseurshipp. 42
Locating Leonardop. 71
Dealers and Clientsp. 84
The Trials of La Belle Ferronnierep. 103
The Battle of the Expertsp. 136
The View from Kansasp. 163
The Rape of La Bellep. 177
True or False in Artp. 218
An Investment Opportunityp. 270
Afterwordp. 285
Bibliographyp. 297
Indexp. 301
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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