Provenance by Robert MoellerProvenance by Robert Moeller

Provenance

byRobert Moeller

Paperback | December 1, 2015

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Acquired in avarice, hidden in lies. . .

What happens when a Leonardo da Vinci canvas, lost for centuries, mysteriously appears in a New York City gallery and becomes the center of controversy among New York's elite?

With echoes of "The Da Vinci Code" and "I Bought Andy Warhol", "Provenance" is an art history suspense novel that follows Sam Driscoll, an art expert and advisor to the massively wealthy and powerful, as he navigates a world where huge egos clash and everyone is looking for the next big deal. His journey takes the reader behind the scenes of auction houses, elegant parties, and on a quest to the Italian countryside, doggedly pursuing the truth through the murky story of how this painting surfaced in New York City---and whether it really is a Leonardo at all.

Greed, power, deceit, and crime nearly eclipse the beauty and magnitude of this rare painting. Ultimately, Sam must decide whether to stay in the game of buying and selling art for millions of dollars, or go against his clients' wishes and fight for the integrity of this work of art, its original owners, and its fate to the end---wherever that may take him.

Robert Moeller offers a rare "behind the scenes" view of the art world based on more than forty years' experience in the principal art markets of the United States and Europe. Educated at Harvard, he has served as an art history professor and museum director at Duke University, and a curator of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Later ...
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Title:ProvenanceFormat:PaperbackDimensions:266 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.68 inPublished:December 1, 2015Publisher:Morgan James PublishingLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1630475378

ISBN - 13:9781630475376

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Read from the Book

The elegantly dressed Mark Ricci faces a thick stack of neatly arranged files, memos, and bulletins that have accumulated during his ten-day vacation to Italy and which are now carefully sorted for his attention. He is standing in the middle of his office, which is the size of a medium-sized ballroom facing 65th Street. He feels especially grumpy. Life in New York can't compare to his villa in Ischia and the days he spent trolling around in Espresso, his huge, rakish, state-of-the-art motorboat, equipped with a high-speed runabout hung from enormous stern davits, and a four-place helicopter tied down to its pad on the top-most level of the hyper-yacht. Ricci sits down at a massive Georgian mahogany partner's desk, its timber displaying marvelous rich color. Toward the top of the carefully arranged pile of material is a file marked "Leonardo (?) Panel" with a covering note from Dennis Nicholson, the twenty-six year old bright, industrious, sales-minded art historian whom Ricci has taken on as a research assistant. Mark Ricci opens the file to find a neatly typed account that Nicholson has written after seeing a painting described as the Virgin and Child with a Cat, of which a photograph is paper-clipped to the information sheet, which Mark now reads: "Harry Gordon called for you on May 4, saying that he had a couple of pictures to show you. I told him that you were away and would return on the 9th. Gordon insisted on bringing photos, one of which was a just OKAY Pissarro, a late one. The other photo he left is attached. It is, to me, a remarkably unusual image; but it is a puzzle. As you can see, the picture seems to be stylistically connected---somewhat---to Leonardo, but the quality and handling are uneven. It would be interesting to see the picture, which Gordon says is in New York." "Welcome back," Dennis. Mark Ricci looks again at the photo and telephones Dennis. "Dennis, I'm looking at the questionable Leonardesque panel. What's the story regarding price? And where is the picture at this moment?" Ricci holds the phone in one hand, his other hand absent-mindedly running up and down the lapel of his custom-made, Italian, double-breasted suit. Today, after his return from Italy, his suit feels more close fitting, particularly in the taper at waist level. He spared nothing for pleasure while in Sicily and then Ischia running around in his private boat. "Harry Gordon said the guy who has the panel quoted a price of $250,000, no more no less." "Well, have Gordon arrange for us to see it. Get him to tell his contact that we'll only consider the picture here. Tell him we'll give the guy receipts and any paperwork that will keep him calm." "Okay," Nicholson says. "I'll track Gordon down and see what I can arrange." "Get it over here." "Will do," Nicholson replies. Mark Ricci hangs up the phone. He likes abrupt closure with staff or fellow dealers. Then he returns his attention to his accumulated business correspondence and catalogues. He thumbs through the sales catalogues for the upcoming Old Master Paintings and Drawings sales scheduled for the second week of May. He folds the corners of five pages illustrating lots to be sold between the three major auction houses. These are pictures he wishes to see, one or two for inventory, others as speculative possibilities for clients. Sometimes, Ricci will strongly encourage a collector to consider an auction picture, for which he occasionally will offer to bid on the client's behalf. From time to time, Ricci will grow impatient with a hesitant collector; in those cases, he will buy the picture and offer it to the timid client at a price that includes a significant mark-up to a retail-level price, comparable to established prices of similar pictures in Ricci's stock. With the next client, Ricci might relent and pass an auction picture along at his cost, especially if he has another more important, more expensive picture in mind for that customer. Few of the buyers whom Ricci supplies understand that they've been regularly manipulated by his persuasive sales techniques. The bottom line is that they are acquiring very good to superb pictures from and through Mark Ricci at inflated prices. And Ricci is banking huge sums for his business. Dennis calls as Ricci is getting deep into his accumulated mail. "What is it?" Ricci's customary clipped greeting for an internal call. "Harry Gordon says he can have the picture here day after tomorrow, Thursday afternoon." "Why not sooner?" "That's the best he can do." "Dennis, bring me Ranger and an espresso." A few moments later Dennis knocks on the door, opens it and releases the dog who heads straight for Ricci and the couch. Dennis sets the espresso down on a side table. Mark sits near the pug on the three-cushion couch and pets the champion-stock brown pug. The dog curls up on the end of the couch on a red cashmere shawl. His dark brown ears are surgically arranged to droop precisely evenly on each side of the dog's head. As Ricci continues to pet Ranger, he considers his lot. Returning to New York and his art business means no more lounging in the sun, no dawn-to-dawn pampering by phalanxes of staff, no real Italian food, no soft, sybaritic nights and fawning Italian women. Just a five-story gallery in a pre-war building on the Upper East Side and his 86th Street and Fifth Avenue penthouse apartment. Ricci sips the double espresso and picks up the Art Newspaper and then, Art and Auction, both required reading in the art world. "Idiots. Damn idiots." The dealer folds both of the papers in half and stuffs them in the ormolu and mahogany wastebasket at the end of the couch. Ricci calls the head of Impressionist Paintings at Blackburn's auction house. To persuade the Blackburn's man to divulge some sensitive information about a painting, he dangles the prospect of consignments for the fall sale of paintings both from his stock as well as from the collections of two of his clients. Ricci ceaselessly tries to persuade his collectors to "upgrade" and purchase from Ricci's gallery or focus on pictures from upcoming auctions---always designated by Ricci. Only very occasionally will Ricci or one of his research assistants discover an overlooked or misattributed picture, a "find" which might return a large profit on a small investment. There are ever more people wanting to get in on the act: dealers, advisors, collectors, and all sorts of "wannabes." Ricci thinks frequently of the "old days" when there were far fewer egos wanting the momentary rush of power and notice which came along with real or perceived connection with important works of art. Those "important" paintings have become extravagantly priced because of the upward spiraling market and diminishing supply. What Ricci never will understand or admit to himself---not to mention anyone else---is that he embodies that very equation of power with possession of art; the rarer, the larger, the more costly, the better. For Ricci, art is the subject of the deal, and his cleverness and power to persuade have made him rich.

Editorial Reviews

Bob Moeller's novel crackles with authority. He knows the ins, outs, glory, and dark underbelly of the art business. When he says this is how the dealers do it, you can be sure that this is how the dealers do it. And he is able to describe art at an emotional level most of us only dream of reaching. He also tells one heck of a story. I highly recommend Provenance! ---Tim Sandlin, novelist and screenwriter