Thursday, December 17, 2009


There’s a story in the biography of Lord Duveen – the fabled Edwardian art dealer – that has him guiding a collector down a red velvet lined hall to the furthest recesses of his gallery. As they passed a door slightly ajar they saw, bathed in light, a jewel-like painting by Fra Angelico. The collector is entranced and begs to have a closer look. Duveen laid his arm across the collector’s shoulder and cooed, “No, no. You’re not ready for that yet.” 

Welcome to the world of the inner sanctum. Every dealer has one, the place where all the good stuff is stored and deals are done. Even at art fairs, where desks and databases are in full view, secret white on white doors open into tiny sanctums just big enough for a couple of collectors with room to close the door and the deal. 

And then of course there is the inner-inner sanctum.
Illustration: Pippin Barr