MASTERCLASS by Morris West


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 West's 25th novel--a knockout, in-depth, hard-to-put-down show of the author's smarts about the art world, with a murder subplot. A young American in Italy, Max Mather is an art historian and paleologist (scholar of ancient manuscripts) hired by the Palombini family to care for their cache of old, old books and artworks. He's also Pia Palombini's lover, and when she dies, she wills him his choice of a gift from the cache. Looking over the treasures (they're mostly third-rate), he finds mention of a pair of Raphaels, commissioned by the Palombini family in 1605. And, lo, there they are--under a dusty pile, sealed in wax, uncatalogued and unknown to the world. He scoots off to a Zurich safe-deposit with them. Then he sets about becoming an art dealer in Manhattan, with ties in Europe, while plotting to boost the auction price of the paintings up to the $100 millions. He falls in with former lover Anne-Marie Loredon and joins her in setting up a fancy new Soho art gallery, which just happens to be in the building where a possibly great American painter, Madeleine Bayard, had her studio and was murdered. Max and Anne-Marie plan to exhibit the late Madeleine, though the solving of her murder is small stuff set beside Max's slyness in bringing the Raphaels to light in a way that won't have the Italian government compromising a sale of what they may claim to be their national treasures. Max enlists and is hired by Harmon Seldes (read Hilton Kramer), editor of Belvedere; works his way into the cold graces of Henri Berchmans, the world's top art dealer; parries with Edward Bayard, dead Madeleine's lawyer husband; digs up Niccolo Tolentino, who made copies of the two Raphaels in 1945; sets up a front corporation in Zurich to handle his dealings; and is drawn in by Hugh Loredon, Anne-Marie's terminally ill father who is a famed auctioneer and falsely accuses Max's lesbian editor on Belvedere of murdering Madeleine. Deft characters show us how the art world works. Hugely satisfying.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-312-05895-0
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1991


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