Title: Old Masters, New World: America’s Raid on Europe’s Great Pictures
Author: Cynthia Saltzman
Release Date: August 14, 2008
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Rating: 3 out of 5
From the publisher’s website:
In the Gilded Age, newly wealthy and culturally ambitious Americans began to compete for Europe’s extraordinary Old Master pictures, causing a major migration of art across the Atlantic. Old Masters, New World is a backstage look at the cutthroat competition, financial maneuvering, intrigue, and double-dealing often involved in these purchases, not to mention the seductive power of the ravishing paintings that drove these collectors—including financier J. Pierpont Morgan, sugar king H. O. Havemeyer, Boston aesthete Isabella Stewart Gardner, and industrialist Henry Clay Frick. Packed with stunning reproductions, this is an ideal gift book for art lovers and history buffs alike.
When I first heard about Old Masters, New World, I was immediately intrigued. I love books about art history and the detective work that goes into proving the provenance of a painting. I thought Old Masters, New World would be a great book about the arrival of the artwork of the Old Masters (Raphael, Michelangelo, etc.) in the United States.
After reading Old Masters, New World, I realize I was both completely right and completely wrong in my expectations. On one hand, it was definitely about the acquisition of Old Masters paintings from Europe by Americans. However, in many ways, this book was not about artwork at all; instead, it was much more about the people who acquired the art.
Old Masters, New World is a study of the American personalities of the late 19th century who found themselves interested in bringing the art of the Old Masters across the ocean. Saltzman does her best to give each of these people a voice and personality, to bring them to life for the reader. I felt like I was getting to know each of these people through their histories.
However, my interest in Old Masters, New World was for the art, not for the people. While there is definitely a discussion of art, the book is much more about the world of art dealing and purchasing than the paintings themselves. Therefore, though it’s well-written, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. If you are interested in the art dealing world, though, you will likely love this book.