Collector to Collector – Excerpts from The Letters of Bernard Berenson and Isabella Stewart Gardner

B.B. to Isabella: [Theodore] Davis has gone, taking with him a Madonna by Mina da Fiesole for which he had to pay over £2,000. I did not recommend it to you, because I had just got you a far finer Mino for less than half the money. (p.174)

B.B. to Isabella: But if it is unwise to rely on mere attractiveness and charm in painting, it is unsafe in marbles and absolutely fatal in glazed terracotta. Of a hundred “della Robbias” at least ninety-five are modern forgeries, and the rest neither Lucas nor Andreas, and relatively worthless. (pp.211-212)

Mary Berenson to Isabella: I wish you could know equally well how really devoted B.B. is to you—has been ever since he first had the honour of knowing you. Nor is it to the official Mrs. Jack Gardner, but to the person herself, in a genuine, deep and truly affectionate way that has no means of expressing itself, but which he loves to think you sometimes feel. He is really and truly your friend and adorer, and his thoughts follow you always, “silently, as the water follows the moon—”

But to return to the Dürer tale—of course it’s fake, as fake as what was written to Mr. Gardner about the Rembrandts of the Hope sale, or what is still said about the Giorgione from Casa Loschi—or in fact about each and every picture that any of his enemies in Italy or England have known that you got through him. For B.B. is very much hated, and I will tell you by what sort of people.

      1. All owners of pictures, or sellers, whose fictitious attributions he has called in question.
      2. All the collectors, like Bode from whose grasp he has snatched pictures for you.
      3. All the dealers whose pictures he hasn’t sold to you, because he didn’t think they were good enough, nor genuine enough.
      4. Other writers who are animated by professional jealousy. Every new success brings out a new crop of slanders, and I attribute this, and many others we are now hearing of, to the success of his new book on drawings. (pp.328-329)

Isabella to B.B.: I shall send you to Baring’s by Swift $1,000. Do the best you can for me—not many things, but very good. And I will try later to send another thousand if you say so. One good thing is better always. (p.478.)

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