I saw the movie Duplicity last night and it reminded me of some espionage in the art world. The book Mellon: An American Life by Professor David Cannadine conveys how art dealer Joseph Duveen bribed household help to find out what Andrew Mellon, banker, Treasury Secretary and benefactor of the National Gallery thought about recent or future art acquisitions. In addition, Duveen gained access to Mellon’s trash to garner more details.
“Mellon had been quite correct in surmising earlier that Duveen had bribed members of his household: Duveen continued to do so through the Washington years. It was also rumored that an underling at the Treasury was in his pay, and that the contents of Mellon’s wastebasket were forwarded to the Duveen salesrooms in New York on a regular basis.”
Duveen, however, didn’t get the best of Mellon. On occasions Mellon would purchase paintings, send them back and re-purchase them for less later. The book is filled with many other interesting accounts surrounding the accumulation of one of the best art collections ever. It’s a very worthy read.