BOOK REVIEW: Duveen Brothers And the Market for Decorative Arts, 1880–1940

Duveen Brothers And the Market for Decorative Arts, 1880–1940

Charlotte Vignon

UK£44.95 / US$59.95
Hardback ISBN 978-1-911282-34-1
D Giles Limited in association with The Frick Collection, New York, 2019




The name of Duveen is well-known in the annals of the American trait of collecting European art treasures in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their story has previously been related in various volumes written by others, some of whom were family members or involved with the company. Understandably paintings predominated in these previous works but wonderfully at last the decorative arts get their well-deserved centre stage spot.


French 18th century furniture, tapestries, Sèvres and Chinese porcelains and medieval and Renaissance works of art were among the items sold to the eager, wealthy American collectors. Relating the story from the firm’s point of view Charlotte Vignon looks at the pricing of the objects and the Duveen’s run-ins with the US tax authorities in which Duveen succeeded and was able to continue to enhance the lives and homes of collectors such as J P Morgan, John D Rockefeller Jnr, Marjorie Merriweather Post, Anna Thomson Dodge and Henry Clay Frick. Thanks to the firm’s records and archives held at the Getty Research Institute, one gets a good understanding of how Duveen functioned in New York, London and Paris and obtained such beautiful treasures at a time when the owners of English and European family collections were selling parts of their heritage for financial reasons. The importance of the house of Duveen was reflected in 1937 when they loaned tapestries to decorate an annexe at Westminster Abbey for the Coronation of King George VI.


It’s a remarkable story of connoisseurship and reveals to present day visitors to American museums and collections how these remarkable objects came to be there. Perfect!

Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga Requests The Pleasure of Your Company

GOYA: THE PORTRAITS, The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2, until 10thJanuary 2016

One of the pictures in this show is well-known to me through my interest in interior decoration.  It is the famous portrait of Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga, who in this exhibition is reunited with Goya’s portraits of his father and mother and sister.

Francisco de Goya Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga 1788 Oil on canvas 127 x 101.6 cm Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.41) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Francisco de Goya
Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga
Oil on canvas
127 x 101.6 cm
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.41)
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The portrait was bought from the famed art dealer Joseph Duveen by the American banker Jules S Bache in 1926 and it is believed that his daughter Kathryn was the driving force behind this purchase.  The latter was better known as Kitty Miller, wife of the renowned theatre producer Gilbert Miller, and she employed the noted designer Billy Baldwin to decorate their homes in New York, London and Mallorca.

It is her New York home that is the focus of this story for when Bache donated his collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1949 there was a specific condition and that was that the picture could hang in Kitty’s drawing room for half the year.  In his book Billy Baldwin Remembers Baldwin recalls that when the painting was first hung in the drawing room the Millers sent out cocktail party invitations to New York society to come and meet Don Manuel Osorio de Zuñiga. So each year it hung there to Kitty’s great delight until her death in 1979, although in Legendary Decorators of the 20th Century, the famous interior decorator Mark Hampton says that “As she grew older, it became annually more difficult for the Met to get the painting back”.

Well, one can totally understand why she had such affection for this painting and now it is our turn to go and meet him.  While there are no cocktails being served there is the delicious treat of seeing more than sixty of Goya’s remarkable portraits.  It is such a good show you will most likely want to visit more than once – just like visiting the Miller’s!