MASTERPIECE by Thomas Hoving
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Romantic international gripper about today's art world; by the former director of the Metropolitan Museum and editor-in-chief of Connoisseur magazine. England's Lord Richfield has decided to unburden himself of his nearly uninsurable family heirloom, a fabulous Velwásquez nude. He expects a record auction price of 10 or 11 million dollars. Museum directors around the world are slavering to upgrade their museums with this great painting. Andrew Foster, of Washington's National Gallery, will have his bidding backed by a donor of massive wealth. But Olivia Cartwright, of the Metropolitan Museum, knows that her possible directorship of the Met hinges on getting the painting for New York, and she'll do anything for it. However, her chief rival for the directorship is Andrew Foster, who is ready to move on from Washington, so it's not just the painting but the most prestigious job in the art world that these two are battling for. And in their jetting from London to Madrid and about, what should happen but that they fall in love, which adds delicious complications. Meanwhile, the President of the Soviet Union wants the nude as well: ""the most beautiful and sensual and erotic image of a woman you can conjure up. . .arousing instant lust. . ."") But it is Olivia who first sees the long-hidden canvas, which hits her with a surge of life and light, a spark of electricity: ""The flesh tones. . .appeared to possess the temperature of human flesh. The eyes themselves were poems of artistry, so limpid yet so penetrating that you could easily mistake the dabs and blobs of paint for the incandescence of life."" And so on, unto the auction itself, which is a shooting and fizzing cork-popper, full of bids that send shivers of delight through the reader. As styleless as any middlebrow thrill, but a big winner nevertheless that cries out for celluloid.

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1986
Publisher: Simon & Schuster