“A likable scamp” is how the headmaster of Eaglebrook described his pupil Thomas P.F. Hoving. And, to judge by this memoir—the first of a series to be devoted to Hoving’s greatest coups—a scamp he has remained. But likable? He seems too pleased with himself for that. “I had always,” he brags, “been able to lie convincingly.” “I had the ability to disguise my worst traits. I too could be devious without qualms.” Empty boasts. Hoving, as we will see, is the least plausible of liars. One of the puzzles of his career is why he continues to indulge in mischief that is so easy to detect.
By confessing to derring-do and dirty deeds—smuggling the Romanesque Annunciation plaque out of Italy, bamboozling trustees and prying open a showcase in the Bargello1 for no reason except masochistic compulsion (“ten thousand needles of excitement and pleasure pricked me”)—the ex-director of the Metropolitan Museum presumably hopes to entertain us, but the spectacle of a public figure making a public fool of himself is not edifying. Nor is the spectacle of a confessor to whom conceit comes much more easily than acts of contrition, and who leaves his more outrageous acts unconfessed.
Why, readers may wonder, should someone so concerned with bella figura blow the whistle on himself? Can it be out of revenge that he brought down the wrath of the Italian government on the Met by confessing to smuggling? It looks like that. Or does Hoving suffer from a m’as-tu vu? syndrome—if he cannot be the hero, he has to play the villain?
The m’as-tu vu? hypothesis is confirmed by John McPhee, Hoving’s schoolfriend, who wrote a perceptive New Yorker profile of him in 1967, unnervingly entitled “A Roomful of Hovings.” McPhee described Hoving at Exeter playing hockey “like a George Plimpton fantast,” mimicking the gestures and language of the pros—much as he does to this day, when he bicycles round Central Park, accoutered as if for the Mille Miglia. McPhee also describes Hoving playing poker at Princeton “with the green eyeshade doing the Cincinnati Kid. If anybody had had the sleeve guards he would have put them on.” All very engaging in an adolescent, less so in someone invested with civic responsibility.
King of the Confessors confirms that Hoving has not outgrown boyish role-playing. For instance, when he is taken on in a lowly capacity at the Cloisters in 1959, he turns into the parody of an ace curator, “peering at, sometimes even tasting, every work of art under my stewardship [in order] to comprehend what quality was all about.” (“Tasting”? Is this why Hoving is apt to compare sculpted faces to lima beans?) The juvenile fantast is even more in evidence when Hoving decides to become a demon art sleuth (“You had to be a detective, a part-time diplomat, kind of a spy,” the author recently said)2 in order to track down an elusive treasure—the early English ivory cross that is the main concern of this book—and thus further his career. This time he becomes James Bond, complete with, if we are to believe him, “a scientific portable field kit”: flashlight, magnifying glass with power lenses, Minox camera, Swiss army knife with scissors, toothpick and file, bottle of xylene, cotton swabs, and a miniature ultraviolet lamp. Characteristically Hoving lists everything except his trusty tape recorder—how else recall verbatim so much idle chatter?
The light the author throws on the cloak-and-dagger requirements of his job will fascinate those critics for whom the subsequent scandals and cover-ups at the Met recalled the scandals and cover-ups at the White House.3 Hoving, it seemed, was out to Nixonize the Met. True, the author’s controversial directorship is not the subject of the present book. All the same, King of the Confessors is of value to the extent that it establishes a Nixonian pattern to Hoving’s activities right from the start.
In confirmation of this we have only to read the passages in which Hoving describes how the Met’s director, James Rorimer, was led by the nose. “I had taken another step down the road to mendacity.” By his own admission, Hoving also misled the museum’s president, Roland Redmond, the trustees, and the purchasing committee, dismissing them as rubber stamps—“groggy…bored.” Not exactly the failings we would associate with a board that included Henry Luce, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Robert Lehman, and Elihu Root. The harsh things Hoving has to say about his superiors are the more ironical and graceless in view of the supportive way most of them behaved toward him twelve years later, when Nemesis finally overtook their beleaguered director. Bad enough that misplaced loyalty left the trustees tarred by Hoving’s brush without now being spattered by his pen.
However, the trustees get off lightly compared to the former director of the Met, thanks to the way Hoving inflates his own achievements at his predecessor’s expense. He belittles James Rorimer (for instance citing a colleague who described him as “pompous, stuffy, arrogant, jealous, conniving”), the sharpeyed medievalist whose chief mistake when he was director was to befriend Hoving and launch him on his rollercoaster career.
King of the Confessors correctly describes how Rorimer groomed his young discovery to become head of the medieval department at the Met, but plays down the All About Eve aspects of the relationship: how this “very ambitious smiler” (as Hoving described himself to Grace Glueck) switched his allegiance to the rising star of John Lindsay and left the Met to become parks commissioner. From this new eminence—the parks commissioner is ex officio a trustee of the Met—the former protégé was in a position to patronize his former benefactor.
At a purchasing meeting in May 1966, Hoving apparently advised against a possible acquisition. “Just because you’re our landlord you don’t have to tell us what to do,” the director remonstrated. A few hours later Rorimer was dead. In the months that followed, the trustees were subjected to incessant pressure—not least from Hoving’s fervent backer, John Lindsay—to appoint the newly ensconced parks commissioner to the directorship that he admits to having coveted ever since his first day at the Met. (“I was young, ambitious, aggressive, fiercely paranoid…about my competition, because the day I had walked into that place, I knew I wanted to be the director.”)4
Hoving proudly recalls the first of his great “discoveries”: the aforementioned Annunciation plaque. We read how a dealer called Harry Sperling sent a photograph of this relief to silly old Rorimer, who instructed clever young Hoving to reply that the Met was not interested in acquiring it. However, “a persistent yet muted bell” rang in the back of Hoving’s head. “Had I not seen something like the Annunciation once before?” After three days of brain fever in the museum library (Hoving’s account of this conjures up Edgar Wind had he been played by Peter Sellers), “my mind was numb; my body ached… I had spasms of double vision. My head throbbed.” Very late one night, as he was about to collapse, Hoving came upon the telltale “bulbous lima-bean faces” that he had been looking for in a “minuscule, slightly out-of-focus photograph” published in a not very obscure periodical. The photograph (which is in fact neither minuscule nor out of focus) depicted a group of plaques on a pulpit in the Florentine church of San Leonardo in Arcetri. “Hoving, you clever bastard”: Rorimer, you silly ass! Were it not for Hoving, the Met was about to turn down the missing plaque from a “masterwork of Florentine Romanesque sculpture.”
All this would be most impressive were it not so absurdly overdramatized and were it not for correspondence between Hoving and Sperling available in the Met’s files, which tells a somewhat different story. In fact, this correspondence, address and all, does not tally with the letters and a cable, to and from Sperling, quoted verbatim in King of the Confessors. As for Hoving’s identification of the plaque, was all that feverish research necessary, given that Sperling spelled out the whole story in a letter to Hoving, dated December 12, 1959? In the circumstances can we put much credence in the rest of Hoving’s account? How he and Rorimer went to inspect the contraband plaque “in a small garage on the outskirts of Genoa”—owned, appropriately, by “a swarthy man shaped like a fireplug”—and how they agreed to buy the marble, knowing that it would have to be shipped out of Italy illegally.
After blackening the late Harry Sperling’s memory by crediting him with a most uncharacteristic disquisition on the technique of art smuggling (familiar to anyone in the field from the lips of quite another gallery owner) and suppressing the fact that Sperling left his fortune and collection to the Met, Hoving moralizes as only he knows how:
What right had I to rip away from Italy a work of art which had been created within the very bosom of the land?… What were…Rorimer and I doing? What piracy were we about to commit? Suddenly I was shaken. But not for long…. Collecting meant taking risks. Collecting meant possession. Italy had six reliefs. A seventh would only mean administrative confusion…. I…tucked my ridiculous anxieties into the recesses of my mind, never to surface again….5
Instead of all this agonizing, Hoving might at least have mentioned the question of provenance. Again, according to information in the Met’s files, the plaque has a seemingly respectable source: it is said to have come from the collection of Baron van der Elst, the Belgian ambassador to Rome—something of a marchand amateur—who had already sold an object through Sperling to the Met. Moreover, there is no proof, apart from Hoving’s word, that the plaque was ever in Genoa, or that it necessarily left “the very bosom of [its] land” contrary to law.
Meanwhile the fence between the Met and Italy’s Belle Arte commission, which Hoving’s purchase of the Euphronios vase had left full of holes, and which the new regime has painstakingly mended, is once again in disrepair, to the extent that the Italian government is putting the important loan program which had started so illustriously with the “Horses of San Marco” exhibition “on hold.”
Not content with getting the Met into hot water with the Italian authorities. Hoving behaves with equal irresponsibility vis-à-vis the French, when he alleges that “a near catastrophe” took place in the Met’s vaults. Despite the installation of closed-circuit television, none of the Met’s staff apparently noticed that the Mona Lisa, on loan from the Louvre, was “sprayed by a gentle rain” from malfunctioning sprinklers “for more than eight hours.” Had this happened, it would indeed have been a catastrophe, for the Mona Lisa, which is on panel, would have become a sponge, and the French would have had as much cause for outrage as the Italians. In fact, as the operating administrator in charge at the time has testified, no sprinkler malfunctioned and not a drop of water splashed the Mona Lisa.6
However, let us move into the main theme of King of the Confessors: the author’s desire for and pursuit of the magnificent romanesque ivory now at the Cloisters that has come to be known as the Bury Saint Edmunds cross. Once doubted, Hoving’s attribution to this abbey and to Master Hugo, a craftsman known to have worked there, would seem to be confirmed by recent research in the field. King of the Confessors relates how, shortly before World War II, this hitherto unrecorded object had fallen into the hands of a mysterious Yugoslav dealer-restorer (according to Hoving a Nazi collaborator, wholesale art thief, and spy for Tito), known variously as Ante Topic Mimara, Maté Topic, Popic, Popic Mimaru, Mimara, Matutin-Mimara.
Sometime in the late Fifties, Topic started offering the great cross as well as a number of dubious items from his “collection” for sale, so this too was far from being the rediscovery that Hoving claims. Sunday museum directors, dealers, collectors, and auctioneers had blazed a trail to the Zurich bank vault where Topic kept his stock, but no sale ever took place, because the price was too high and the cross seemed too good to be true. Was it, like much of Topic’s stuff, a fake? Had it been stolen or was it, as seems possible, Nazi loot? And then Topic was said to be too crass and slippery for most people to deal with. Not, however, Hoving.
Accompanied by a distinguished curator from the medieval department, Carmen Gómez-Moreno, and equipped with his “scientific portable field kit,” Hoving went to Zurich to meet Topic and inspect the cross. As Hoving told McPhee, Topic was a “heavyset, 46 short portly” (yes, Hoving did a stint in one of his father’s clothing stores) with “a face like a crowd,” whatever that means, and a gaze that “had an intensity of black evil.” True to stereotype, there was a “beast within him.” Accounts differ on whether Topic may, or may not, have worn a red fez. The antagonists were made for each other—Dick Daring meets Dr. No. Too bad, after all this buildup, their confrontation was a nonevent.
A nonevent, because in reality Topic turned out to be neither evil nor a beast but a jolly, outspoken Slav. According to Gómez-Moreno, Topic “in this transaction was a man of his word,” unlike Hoving, who found his adversaries on his own side of the fence. Inevitably there was friction with Rorimer. This canny and experienced negotiator was understandably averse to spending a record price ($600,000) for an object, when proof of neither title nor provenance was forthcoming. However, by concealing the truth and lobbying, Hoving managed to infect the director and trustees with some of his own greed for the ivory. According to King of the Confessors, the purchasing committee was bowled over by Hoving’s gimmicky presentation of the cross. (“One of the best I ever heard,” Robert Lehman is supposed to have said.) Roland Redmond recalls things differently. There were three or four more meetings and a great many pertinent questions raised before an offer to Topic was authorized. Redmond also confirms that Hoving’s story of “a discretionary fund at the Cloisters” for side commissions is an invention.
True, the British Museum was very eager to acquire the cross on the grounds that it was probably a national treasure, but the British government, whose approval was crucial if funds were to be made available, ultimately refused to sponsor the purchase without evidence of legal title. Unhampered by any such scruples, which, as we may remember, had been “tucked away into the recesses of [his] mind,” Dick Daring was finally permitted to swoop down and grab the cross for the Met, virtually by default. Thus ends what the publisher extols as “the most exciting story of art acquisition ever told.”
Since this mundane crusade has been recounted ad nauseam by or about Hoving in his various roles as scholar, museum director, publicist, lecturer, and TV personality, desperate efforts have had to be made to freshen up the stale tale and pad it out to book length. The prose is so souped up that much of King of the Confessors reads like a blurb. In addition, speeches, pages long, are assigned to artmongers, like Harold Parsons, who are no longer alive to disclaim them. There are even pretensions to spiritual regeneration. From blithely confessing that “the least interest I had in life was religion” (odd, since this is the principal subject of medieval art), Hoving would have us believe that his quest for the cross miraculously endowed him with faith. He even has a vision of “what it was like to hang upon the cross,” which includes just about everything short of the stigmata:
I could feel the head [sic] of a dozen suns, and then a gradual dulling of the agony. The words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” came into my mind.
Although Hoving says he kept a detailed diary, the accounts of his confrontation with the cross and its owner vary from book to book and differ from Gómez-Moreno’s memories of events. For instance, instead of describing how, after leaving the bank vault, Topic took the Met’s emissaries out to tea, Hoving states that he “headed for a religious bookstore” and bought a Vulgate and a King James Bible. Back in his hotel room, the researcher found himself in his usual “feverish state of mind”—a state that a lot more Latin might have assuaged. What especially puzzled Hoving about the cross was the inscription that read “King of the Confessors” instead of the more usual “King of the Jews.” There were also some decidedly anti-Jewish inscriptions, which Hoving decided to keep from the trustees:
[I] began to race through the Latin Bible seeking the phrases that appeared on the cross…. I sat back horrified. God, where to begin? I was riffling through the thousand pages of the Latin version with a deepening sense of discouragement, when I happened to stop at Solomon’s Song of Songs…. My mind raced. I was at last getting somewhere. Christ was not the King of the Jews. Never wanted to be. Never said it, really. Never cared.
Gómez-Moreno remembers things rather differently: the two scholars, she told me, returned to their hotel—the Europa, not the Savoy, as the diarist claims—had some drinks, and went to a movie.
Other more important discrepancies: In 1967 Hoving told McPhee that “Topic never said where or how he had obtained” the cross. In King of the Confessors, he has Topic relate verbatim exactly how he discovered it in a remote Central or Eastern European monastery. Whom or what are we to believe? Then again McPhee’s description of Hoving’s New York apartment describes “a fifteenth-century Russian icon given to Hoving by Ante Topic Mimara,” which King of the Confessors fails to mention. This is surprising, because the icon would seem to have been one of the very few authentic items in Topic’s pitiful stock (“ninety percent was fake”); also because its acceptance would have been a breach of museum regulations—staff members are not allowed to accept anything from dealers that they cannot eat, drink, or smoke within twenty-four hours—and thus a most appropriate item for inclusion in this confessional book.
Even more questionable is Hoving’s claim to have discovered that one of the ivory figures—dubbed “the pugilist” by Hoving—was “a separate piece cleverly inserted” at a later date; the point being that the anti-Semitic inscriptions on the cross could then be neatly linked to an anti-Semitic abbot of Bury Saint Edmunds, one Samson de Tottingen (according to Hoving, the pugilist in question), whose prelacy postdates the cross by an inconvenient number of years. According to Eleanor Munro, the staff of the Cloisters has once and for all nailed this fib by establishing that the figure in question is “an integral part of the body of the ivory,” and therefore no later in date.7
Since the Met had already (1974) issued a press release specifically refuting the cross’s alleged links with Abbot Samson as well as playing down Hoving’s oversensationalization of its anti-Semitic inscriptions, it would seem disingenuous to the point of dottiness to rehash this specious theory, especially on the strength of fake evidence. But what can one expect of a scholar who describes this sublime ivory as “a genuine, honest-to-goodness neo-Nazi cross, dripping with medieval venom”?
In the process of turning his ego inside-out and upside-down, Hoving does his fellow medievalists almost as much injustice as he does himself. Ms. Gómez-Moreno’s contributions receive less recognition than they should. Dr. Harry Bober is given no credit for putting Hoving onto the Bury Bible (in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge), which provided him with a hypothetical link between the cross and the abbey of Bury Saint Edmunds.8 Important work done by Hoving’s research assistant, Sabrina Longland, is barely acknowledged. Nor is Professor Florens Deuchler mentioned; yet it was he and not Hoving (as is claimed in these pages) who, rightly or wrongly, suggested that a walrus ivory in the Kunst-industriet Museum, Oslo, was the Christ figure missing from the Cloisters’ cross—“the ultimate stylistic evidence to support my theory that Master Hugo had carved the cross,” as Hoving insists. Trust Hoving (on second thought, don’t) to omit the fact that the connection between the Oslo corpus and the New York cross is no longer accepted by the Cloisters staff.
Scamps, this book keeps reminding us, will be scamps, but a scamp with any sense of reality should know how far to push his luck. Hoving doesn’t: some deep compulsion drives him time and again around the bend. As a result, the reader is torn between extremes of pathos, boredom, and shock. Perhaps the most disturbing example of this is on page 83, where Hoving puts slanderous allegations into the mouth of the distinguished Spanish art historian Dr. José Gudiol (see the accompanying letter, on this page, for Gudiol’s refutation). Unlike most of the people whom the author quotes verbatim, Dr. Gudiol is alive and therefore in a position to gainsay Hoving’s clumsy attempts at ventriloquism. Alas, this testimony obliges us to question not only Hoving’s unfounded statement that Picasso’s father was a faker, but everything else in this book that cannot be substantiated by independent witnesses.
The author’s cavalier approach to scholars as well as scholarship is the more regrettable, since Hoving was endowed with so many of the special gifts that museum work has come to require. In his earlier years he appeared to be a beguiling blend of energy and charm; and he knew just how to exploit these qualities to the best advantage when negotiating with the city or cajoling gifts of money and works of art out of collectors and philanthropists, not to speak of social climbers. Hoving was also a brilliant impresario, showman, and blower of his own and the Met’s trumpet; and he could be far more articulate and plausible than the sleazy style of this book suggests. Last but not least, he was obsessively acquisitive—a most desirable quality in a museum director—and, so long as he kept to his own field, he had an enviably sharp eye for neglected treasure. No wonder, according to rumor, Washington wanted to entice this superstar away from New York to be minister of culture. There was even talk of greater things.
The trouble was that most of Hoving’s qualities had built-in defects, and that in his case energy crossed with charm engendered an excess of hype. More dangerous still was Hoving’s retailing approach to the Met’s financial problems which rightly raised an outcry when it took the form of bargain-rate deaccessioning and the transformation of the museum shop into more and more of a department store. And notwithstanding Hoving’s Midas touch as fundraiser ($20 million out of Mrs. De Witt Wallace), he left the museum with a deficit that still needs a Rohatyn to redress.
As for Hoving’s showmanship, it kept the Met in the headlines but failed to boost attendance figures. Indeed the director was often criticized for sacrificing scholarly and artistic considerations to crowd-pleasing gimmicks, like the “Harlem On My Mind” show which misfired, or the attempt—in the teeth of his curator’s (Henry Geldzahler) opposition—to single out Andrew Wyeth as the Met’s contemporary star. As for Hoving’s administrative ability: no doubt about it, the somewhat stuffy institution that he took over was in need of modernization and reorganization. Sad, however, that this was achieved at the expense of the delicate balance that had existed between the curatorial staff and the administration. Hitherto conducted with democratic respect for the views of the staff, the Met became more like a dictatorship. Woe betide anyone who opposed Hoving’s nastier deeds: the director could be very, very rough.
Then again, Hoving has taken credit for some fine acquisitions—among them the Rockefeller collection of primitive art, Monet’s Terrasse à Sainte-Addresse and Velázquez’s Portrait of Juan de Pareja. But acquisitiveness did not always go hand in hand with discrimination as much as it did with aggrandizement for its own sake. If the Met could not equal the Louvre in holdings, it could match it in size; hence too much precious money and above all space was wasted on pretentious galleries to house the uneven Lehman collection and that mammoth gift horse, the Temple of Dendur. Why all these new galleries, when there is not sufficient staff to keep all the old ones open?
In the end, Hoving went too far as usual. He was undone by the Met’s abortive Annenberg Communications Centre—an art-cloning operation conceived along “Star Trek” lines. In order to head this operation, Hoving resigned his directorship. However, the commitments and conflicts of interest were too much for the various parties involved and the project collapsed. Hoving’s reign was over. But the ironical ending to the story, hitherto kept quiet, was yet to come. A year or two before Hoving’s departure, the cross was dropped in an elevator at the Cloisters by a butter-fingered curator. Losses were relatively minor and little damage was done. This is one skeleton that Hoving leaves in the closet—and no wonder, given that the cross was the symbol of his early success.
Just as the author intended, the vindictive nature of King of the Confessors is causing the staff of the Met understandable trepidation. What indiscretions will further installments of this autobiography bring? How tall a tale for instance, is Hoving going to tell about “discovering” an extra margin of painted canvas—long familiar to anyone who had examined the painting—tucked behind the Juan de Pareja? And can he be persuaded to lay aside the mantle of Munchausen long enough to give us the truth about the far more mysterious acquisition of what Hoving has publicly referred to as “the hot pot”9 (the Euphronios krater)? I, for one, hope he desists. If the Hoving approach is truly a thing of the past, the Met should be given all the support that the art world and general public owe it. So let us hope that Hoving can be dissuaded from any further self-promotion at this great institution’s expense. Has not the embittered ex-director scrawled enough graffiti on the Met’s venerable but vulnerable façade?
And make no mistake, the shadow of King of the Confessors is a long one stretching beyond New York as far as Washington. By lavishing praise (“brilliant”) on a book that undermines the Met, the director of the National Gallery, Carter Brown, may get in a sly dig at his New York competition. But by giving his accolade to an author who betrays the museum ethos as well as the spirit and letter of art history, he stretches our confidence to the snapping point. Is this the kind of scholarship that the National Gallery has set up a Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts to promote? Of course not but Brown has only himself to blame if people come to this conclusion.
A Comment From Catalonia
The following passage begins on page 83 of King of the Confessors.
…Rorimer proudly escorted me to a “secret” collection [in Barcelona] from which he had purchased, for three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, a painted cross, an altar frontal and a sacristy chest, all late Romanesque. This collection was owned by two eccentric old brothers named Junyer. As we toured the collection in their mansion one of the brothers gaped at us in silence while the other chattered away in Catalan, not a word of which Rorimer or I could understand. The silent brother would stop from time to time to urinate in his pants, his face taking on a look of sheer rapture.
After this bizarre visit [Rorimer and I] paid a courtesy call to the director of the Catalan Museum, José Gudiol, an amiable and garrulous art historian who, Rorimer instructed me, should not be told a word about the three objects he had bought from the Junyer collection.
Gudiol and Rorimer talked animatedly for a while about the art market. Out of the blue, Gudiol mentioned the Junyer collection and advised Rorimer to examine it.
“But be on guard,” he added, “there are a few forgeries there, particularly Catalan painted objects of the late Romanesque period. Around 1900, Catalonia tried to secede from the rest of Spain. Nationalism was rampant. Every wealthy person in Barcelona had to own an example of Catalan art of the early period, for patriotic reasons. Supply could not keep up with demand. Two gifted forgers, Ozo and Ruiz, who by the way was Pablo Picasso’s father, churned out excellent fakes, usually by repainting badly damaged originals.”
“What kinds of things, José?” Rorimer managed to ask in a strangled voice.
“Oh, such things as frontals, statues, church chests, and crosses. I have an example of one of these fakes right here in my laboratory,” Gudiol said casually, motioning to a guard. “I’ll have it brought up.”
We were standing in a magnificent gallery at least a hundred feet long. A pair of attendants entered at the far end, carrying a three-foot sculpture of the Virgin Mary enthroned. In a flash of a second, Rorimer and I could see—we turned at once to look at each other aghast—that the saints which happened to decorate the side of the wooden throne were fakes identical in style to the figures obviously painted by Ozo and Ruiz for The Cloisters’ altar frontal, cross and chest…
Asked to comment on this account, José Gudiol writes as follows:
Regarding Mr. Hoving’s assertions in page 83 I must say, first of all, that I have never been director of the Catalan Museum of Art nor of any other museum. My only official post has been, from 1941 to the present day, that of director of the Instituto Amatller de Arte Hispánico.
I certainly warned my friend James Rorimer to be careful with Junyer’s pictures. These two brothers, one of them a painter and the other an art and theater critic, had put together a fine collection of paintings (amongst them quite a few by their close friend Picasso), but I also knew that they, the Junyer brothers themselves, were “over-restoring” badly damaged medieval works of art; I never heard of anybody helping them in this task. These “restorations” were carried out certainly after the death of Picasso’s father, in 1912, and not, as Hoving implies, around 1900. At the beginning of the century there was an interest in romanesque works of art, but only in very limited circles. Practically the only collectors that bought such pieces in those early days were Lluis Plandiura, the Museum of Barcelona, and the Museum of Vic. The prices they paid were so low (150-200 pesetas), that I very much doubt they would leave enough room for benefit to eventual forgers.
As to the supposed forgers Ozo and Ruiz, never, during the sixty years of my active life as an art historian, have I ever heard of anybody connected with Spanish art under the name of Ozo. Ruiz, Raimundo Ruiz, was one of the best art dealers in Madrid, whose honesty was unquestionable; he died not too long ago, and he had no relationship whatsoever with Picasso’s father.
I have not yet had the time to read the whole book, but I am afraid that Hoving has allowed his fantasy to go too far.
On the other hand, I cannot accept Hoving presenting me as a “garrulous” art historian; I do not think I deserve the term. I would appreciate if you notified him of my deep sorrow for being treated like this by someone I always considered as a colleague.
January 21, 1982
Whether the author actually did this is unclear. According to a staff member of the Met, the showcase in question is not “in an upper gallery” but on the main floor of the Bargello, which is always guarded. Far from having “no locks or keyholes,” the case has a keyhole which could never have been opened in the way that Hoving describes. Lastly, Hoving is out by 50 percent on the measurements of the plaque inside the case. ↩
In an interview with Sherrye Henry, WOR Radio, New York, October 19, 1981. ↩
While Woodward and Bernstein were busy exposing Watergate in the Washington Post, John L. Hess was exposing Hoving in The New York Times. Hess’s investigatory articles were later the basis of a book, The Grand Acquisitors (Holmes and Meier, 1974), which has been of great help in the writing of this review. ↩
WOR Radio interview with Sherrye Henry. ↩
Grace Glueck (New York Times, September 28, 1981) quoted prepublication proofs of this passage: “What right had I to rip away from Italy, clandestinely and illicitly….” The last three words were deleted at the request of the present director of the Met. ↩
Joseph Noble, now director of the Museum of the City of New York, says that this canard is presumably based on the fact that there was a slight dribble from an air-conditioner, which was in the vault but nowhere near the Mona Lisa. ↩
Eleanor Munro, “The Hoving Instinct” (Washington Post, October 11, 1981). ↩
Eleanor Munro, “The Hoving Instinct.” ↩
In an interview published in the News Standard (London, May 13, 1981). ↩