Monday, March 15, 2010


The year of 1920 had been a particularly bad one for American art dealers. Big buyersthe robber-baron generation of the previous centurywere getting to an age where they were dying off like flies, and no new millionaires had emerged to take their place. Things were so bad that a number of the major dealers decided to pool their resources, an unheard of event, since art dealers usually got along like cats and dogs.

Joseph Duveen, art dealer to the richest tycoons of America, was suffering more than the others that year, so he decided to go along with this alliance. The group now consisted of the five biggest dealers in the country. Looking around for a new client, they decided that their last best hope was Henry Ford, then the wealthiest man in America. Ford had yet to venture into the art market, and he was such a big target that it made sense for them to work together.

The dealers decided to assemble a list, The 100 Greatest Paintings in the World (all of which they happened to have in stock), and to offer the lot of them to Ford. With one purchase he could make himself the worlds greatest collector. The consortium worked for weeks to produce a magnificent object: a three-volume set of books containing beautiful reproductions of the paintings, as well as scholarly texts accompanying each picture. Next they made a personal visit to Ford at his home in Dearborn, Michigan. There they were surprised by the simplicity of his house: Mr. Ford was obviously an extremely unaffected man.

Ford received them in his study. Looking through the book, he expressed astonishment and delight. The excited dealers began imagining the millions of dollars that would shortly flow into their coffers. Finally, however, Ford looked up from the book and said, Gentlemen, beautiful books like these, with beautiful colored pictures like these, must cost an awful lot! But Mr. Ford! exclaimed Duveen, we dont expect you to buy these books. We got them up especially for you, to show you the pictures. These books are a present to you. Ford seemed puzzled. Gentlemen, he said, it is extremely nice of you, but I really dont see how I can accept a beautiful present like this from strangers. Duveen explained to Ford that the reproductions in the books showed paintings they had hoped to sell to him. Ford finally understood. But gentlemen, he exclaimed, what would I want with the original pictures when the ones right here in these books are so beautiful?

- Robert Greene

Edward Ruscha - Art (1970)

No comments:

Post a Comment