A revealing if occasionally stodgy account of the growing influence (and affluence) of the prestigious auction...



A revealing if occasionally stodgy account of the growing influence (and affluence) of the prestigious auction house--beginning in 1958, when the author set up the firm's press office, until his retirement in 1985. Along the way, Herbert regales the reader with tales of the maneuverings and manipulations that go on behind the scenes of today's auction houses. He tells of soaring art prices and sensitive egos, of rivalries and recriminations, and draws a gallery of memorable portraits. Herbert is especially effective in distinguishing between the publicity-hound approach he indicates is taken by Christie's chief rival, Sotheby's, and his own firm's more conservative approach. He encapsulates the differences by contrasting the personalities of Sotheby's chairman, Peter Wilson, and Christie's, Peter Chance. The autocratic Wilson, according to Herbert, favored ""commercial hypes""; Chance, on the other hand, had an ""attitude towards the Press. . .verging on paranoia."" Herbert also gives an involving account of the events that led to the downfall of Christie's principal David Bathurst. Bathurst lied to the international press when he claimed that a van Gogh and a Gauguin had been sold during a 1981 auction. The paintings had, in fact, been ""bought in."" The truth came out, and Bathurst was forced to resign. Such personalities as Cecil Beaton, Coco Chanel, and the Maharanee of Baroda (or at least their possessions) make cameo appearances. The author's detailing of the ever-increasing auction prices paid for artworks and the lengths to which the houses and their staffs will go to woo collector/sellers are revelatory. One small quibble: the tone of Herbert's prose often betrays his public-relations background. All in all, however, a satisfying exploration of what for many readers is an unfamiliar world.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 1990


Page Count: -

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1990