Old Masters, New World

Old Masters, New World

America's Raid on Europe's Great Pictures

By Cynthia Saltzman

Viking Adult, Hardcover, 9780670018314, 352pp.

Publication Date: August 14, 2008


The Gilded Age race to bring Europe's most valuable art to America

In 1870 a group of wealthy and culturally ambitious New Yorkers founded the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a Manhattan brownstone with a lackluster collection and not a single major work of art. Americans came late to the game of art collecting and raced to catch up. Soon, America's new industrial tycoons began to compete for Europe's extraordinary Old Master pictures, laying claim to works by Vermeer, Titian, Rembrandt, and others, and causing a major migration of art across the Atlantic.

Cynthia Saltzman recounts the fierce competition to acquire some of the greatest paintings in the world and the boom in the market. At the center of this enterprise were the steel tycoon Henry Clay Frick, the banker J. Pierpont Morgan, the sugar king Harry Havemeyer and his wife Louisine, as well as the Boston aesthete Isabella Stewart Gardner, and the Metropolitan's president, Henry Marquand. Old Masters, New World is the story of beauty, aesthetics, and taste; money, trade, and power. It is a backstage look at the part played in American collecting by experts like Bernard Berenson and dealers like Colnaghi, Knoedler, and Duveen--who raced around Europe to negotiate purchases and sales of the rarest and most costly masterpieces.