Summer travels to great American cities frequently involve trips to those cities' famous art museums, whether to enjoy the renowned art collections or simply to beat the heat. But as you soak up the art (and the air-conditioning), have you ever stopped to wonder how such European treasures as Italian Renaissance masterpieces, classic Impressionist works and iconic British portraits wound up in an art museum in, say, Boston, Philadelphia or New York City?
Old Masters, New World explores these questions in fascinating detail, delving into the early 20th-century's Gilded Age and the wealthy industrialists who turned their American ingenuity (and their considerable fortunes) to acquiring some of the world's most iconic works of art. Along the way, as they sought to rectify the lack of art and culture that had so disenchanted the critic Henry James, among others, with American life, these tycoons helped to establish collections - New York's Frick Collection, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and, of course, the Metropolitan Museum of Art - that have remained cultural landmarks today.
Despite the beauty of these valuable masterpieces, often the methods of their attainment were anything but pretty - involving cut-throat competition, unscrupulous agents and dealers, and the kind of ruthless acquisitiveness that had already made American businessmen and industrialists the most powerful in the world. By focusing on individual collectors, collections and even on the often-fascinating stories of individual paintings, Saltzman brings this fast-paced, high-stakes world vividly to life.
Saltzman, who has degrees in both art history and business, is perhaps uniquely qualified to tell these stories, interspersing detailed descriptions of particular paintings with accounts of their purchase and acquisition. Appealing to history buffs, art lovers and biography fans Old Masters, New World will certainly give visitors to our country's premier art museums something new to ponder.
Norah Piehl is a writer and editor who lives near Boston.