I’m just about finished reading The Art Detective: Fakes, Frauds and Finds, and the Search for Lost Treasures by Philip Mould. The author is the host of BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, and also runs a showroom in London that specializes in British portraiture, among other things. Throughout his career, he’s had many encounters with obvious works of art; somewhat more interesting to the general public, however, are the times when he’s found a hidden gem, a carefully disguised fake, or an outright amazing piece of art in an unusual location. He recounts several of these in his book, in quick but detailed and thorough chapters that make for some nice, very interesting reading.
Two of my favorites: the middle-aged American collector (hoarder might be a better term) who has a hundreds of items stored pretty haphazardly in an unused church, one of which happens to be a work by Hogarth; and a full portrait of Queen Elizabeth (the first one, that is) that, once several layers of “repair” paint are removed, reveals itself to have been painted before she was made Queen, which is very rare indeed. In addition to the works of art, Mould profiles some of the individuals engaged in the various processes related to his work: buyers, researchers, restorers, experts, etc.
Of course, he also talks a bit about himself and his primary business partner, and part of the energy of this book comes from him relaying the excitement, doubt and nervousness that accompanies spending loads of money of a work of art that you are almost positive is something special, but you won’t know until you buy it and start taking it apart a bit. Sometimes it’s only thousands of dollars, sometimes it’s millions, but it’s always a risk. With Mould’s book you get to feel a little of the excitement, without the expense.