Few dealers have made such a large contribution to the art market as Jospeh Duveen, who in the first half of the 20th century made his fortune selling old master works to the ultra-rich. “Duveen – who became Lord Duveen of Millbank before his death in 1939 at the age of 69 – noticed that Europe had a lot of art and America had a lot of money, and his entire career was amazing. was the product of this simple observation, ”wrote SN Behrman in a 1951 New Yorker article titled “The Days of Duveen”. This magazine is part of the inspirations of Wes Anderson’s latest film, The French dispatch, which concerns three journalists and their famous stories. In homage to the New Yorker, Anderson French expedition has multiple discrete segments, each of which includes a movie within a movie. The first of these segments is “The Concrete Masterpiece”, in which JKL Berensen (Tilda Swinton), writer for the French expedition, introduces us to the art dealer Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody).
Duveen and Cadazio share little of a resemblance, other than the fact that they saw each other as valuable referees. Duveen shaped the tastes of the era’s most legendary American millionaires, selling to Andrew Mellon, JP Morgan, Henry Clay Frick and Benjamin Altman. Duveen practically invented the trick of buying pieces at such astronomical prices that he managed to convince his customers that the works were of great value. According to New Yorker Profile, once Duveen bought an aristocratic portrait of a titled Englishwoman, he convinced her to sell it to him for £ 25,000, as opposed to the £ 18,000 she had originally asked for. He was aware of the outrageous price he could sell it at and could not in good conscience steal the woman. He also knew that by raising his own bid he could later demand a higher sum for the painting. Indeed, he had increased the value of his own inventory simply by clever maneuvers.
Duveen made millions of dollars accumulating crown jewels from Europe and bringing them across the pond to the United States to sell to the new rich, who had no family heirlooms. . If Duveen’s life story now seems a bit worn out, it’s because it’s all too easy to forget just how controversial he was. Between his flair for drama and his intense competitiveness, he has run into all kinds of trouble. In 1921, a customer made the mistake of showing Duveen a 16th century Italian painting he was considering buying from another dealer. Duveen glanced at the board, puffed up his nostrils, and shook his head sadly. “I’m sniffing fresh paint,” he reportedly said. The implication that the work was a forgery led to years of litigation and a settlement that cost Duveen $ 575,000, the equivalent of $ 14 million today.
Like Duveen, Cadazio is a cunning salesman, willing to pay any price to corner markets and promote his own ideas., but Anderson is not necessarily interested in historical accuracy. Where Duveen was charming, Cadazio is aggressive, a bad boy with an advantage. It’s hard to imagine someone like Cadazio rubbing shoulders with people like Mellon or Frick, or Americans at the start of the oil boom.
In The French dispatch, Cadazio is in prison for tax evasion. While making time, Cadazio comes across a painting created by the fictional Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro) during a therapeutic art class. Wild pops of pink, purple and red form the bright center of the painting before its borders blend into the black. Title Simon Naked Cell Black J Hobby Room, the work is presented in the film as the first truly modern masterpiece.
Rosenthaler creates these abstract works while his director, Simone (Léa Seydoux), who is also his lover, poses naked for him. (The artist is in prison for beheading two men, one by accident, the other in self-defense.) Cadazio buys this painting for far more than Rosenthaler asks – a page from Duveen’s playbook – and the merchant brings it to his uncles with a plan.
Cadazio suggests that the family stop selling old masters and start pushing contemporary art. To convince his uncles of Rosenthaler’s talent, he shows them a picture of a sparrow he drew in 45 seconds. Cadazio describes it as “perfect”. Rosenthaler could make representative art, but he thinks abstract work is better. “And I kind of agree with him,” Cadazio says. After touring the painting, Cadazio arouses fervor for more works by Rosenthaler. After three years of waiting, Cadazio is organizing a tour of Rosenthaler’s new masterpieces for its clients. They are not exhibited in a gallery but inside the prison where Rosenthaler is being held. In typical Anderson fashion, a slapstick comedy ensues.
At the heart of characters like Duveen or Cadazio arises an old question: do dealers love art as much as they say they do, or are they really in love with the money they make? With Duveen, you could never be sure. In his New Yorker Profile, Behrman wrote of Duveen: “Every painting he had to sell, every tapestry, every piece of sculpture was the largest from the last to the next.
With Cadazio, the answer to this question is clearer. When Cadazio enters prison, he immediately judges Rosenthaler’s new works as a success. But there is a small problem: Rosenthaler painted the works directly on the prison wall. Cadazio withdraws his compliments and insults the artist, because after all, how to sell a prison wall? What a failure!
But Anderson offers his merchant a sort of redemption: Cadazio learns to love work that he cannot sell. There is a fairy tale reward for her change of mind, as a famous American collector, Upshur “Maw” Clampette (Lois Smith), agrees to pay for the work to be airlifted from prison and placed in his collection in Kansas. It’s unlikely that even someone of Duveen’s stature could have gotten people like JP Morgan to go this far for an incredible piece of art.