702: The Art Detective by Philip Mould

by Gerard

702.88: Mould, Philip. The Art Detective: Adventures of an Antiques Roadshow Appraiser. New York: Penguin, 2011. 246 pp. ISBN 978-0-14-311916-6.

Dewey Construction:

  • 700: Fine Art
  • 702: Miscellany of fine and decorative arts
  • 702.8: Techniques, procedures, apparatus, equipment, or materials
  • 702.88: Maintenance and repair of fine and decorative arts

For most collectors, it’s the thrill of the hunt and the negotiation that keeps them going. Finding a prized baseball card from the 1950s or spotting a priceless antique at a flea market—these are the life’s blood of collectors. Philip Mould is no different. As a specialist in painted portraits, he scours the world looking for pieces that no one has yet noticed are the work of a true master.

The Art Detective is a collection of Mould’s adventures around the world to locate and appraise valuable pieces of art. Along the way, he lets us in on many of the secrets that go on behind the auction room and restoration chamber doors. He goes to country churches in Vermont, to Amsterdam, and to local auctions to hunt down the stories behind some of the greatest re-discoveries in the world of art. Perhaps my favorite was the rescue of a early Rembrandt portrait from overpainting and years of abuse. Mould’s description of Martin Bijl’s restoration honestly left me breathless as he exposes millimeter upon millimeter of the late master’s work.

The one area where this book suffers is the slight deception in the title. The “Antiques Roadshow Appraiser” part led me to believe that the entire book would be about people bringing in their treasures to the show, the author offering his appraisals and reasoning, and the owner’s subsequent reaction (with probably a lot more history thrown in). Sadly, we only get one such tale, but it’s a good one nonetheless. Once I got past my expectations, however, the book was very charming and full of fun historical details. I recommend it to any art fan.