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#339 Joseph Duveen: Robber Baron Art Dealer
February 20th, 2024 | E339

What I learned from reading The Days of Duveen by S.N. Behrman. 


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(0:01) Duveen noticed that Europe had plenty of art and America had plenty of money, and his entire astonishing career was the product of that simple observation.

(2:30) The great American millionaires of the Duveen Era were slow-speaking and slow-thinking, cautious, secretive, and maddeningly deliberate.

(3:30) How Larry Gagosian Reshaped The Art World by Patrick Radden Keefe. (Founders #325)

(4:30) Invest Like The Best #342 Will England: A Primer on Multi-Strategy Hedge Funds

(6:00) There is an old two-part rule that often works wonders in business, science, and elsewhere: 

1. Take a simple, basic idea and 

2. Take it very seriously. — the NEW Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charlie Munger. (Founders #329)

(10:00) The art dealer Joseph Duveen insisted on making the paintings he sold as scarce and rare as possible. To keep their prices elevated and their status high, he bought up whole collections and stored them in his basement. The paintings that he sold became more than just paintings—they were fetish objects, their value increased by their rarity.  — The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. 

(14:00) Duveen had enormous respect for the prices he set on the objects he bought and sold. Often his clients tried, in various ways, to maneuver him into a position where he might relax his high standards, but he nearly always managed to keep them.

(16:00) Wildcatters: A Story of Texans, Oil, and Money by Sally Helgesen. (Founders #338)

(18:00) You don’t need many customers if the few customers you do have are the riches people in the world.

(22:00) His enthusiasm was irrepressible.

(26:00) Duveen felt that his educational mission was two fold —to teach millionaire American collectors what the great works of art were, and to teach them that they could get those works of art only through him.

(27:00) When you pay high for the priceless, you're getting it cheap.

(31:00) He was interested in practically nothing except his business.

(31:00) Certain men are endowed with the faculty of concentrating on their own affairs to the exclusion of what's going on elsewhere in the cosmos. Duveen was that kind of man.

(32:00) Monopoly was his method.

(38:00) Duveen would pay the servants of staff that worked in the homes of his clients. This was the result: They developed a feeling that it was only fair to transmit to Duveen any information that might interest him.

(41:00) The art dealer Joseph Duveen was once confronted with a terrible problem.

The millionaires who had paid so dearly for Duveen’s paintings were running out of wall space, and with inheritance taxes getting ever higher, it seemed unlikely that they would keep buying.

The solution was the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which Duveen helped create in 1937 by getting Andrew Mellon to donate his collection to it. The National Gallery was the perfect front for Duveen.

In one gesture, his clients avoided taxes, cleared wall space for new purchases, and reduced the number of paintings on the market, maintaining the upward pressure on their prices. All this while the donors created the appearance of being public benefactors.

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. 

(48:00) His clients felt better when they paid a lot. It gave them the assurance of acquiring rarity.


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