Thomas Micchelli

  • culture November 08, 2013

    Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade by Rachel Cohen

    Bernard Berenson helped build some of the greatest private Renaissance art collections of America’s Gilded Age. His catalogues of old master drawings are still used today by curators and art historians. His expertise made him a sought-after authenticator of artworks. His allegiance to authenticity, however, fell short when it came to his own personal history. Born Bernhard Valvrojenski in Butrymancy, Lithuania, in 1865, he became Bernhard Berenson when his family immigrated to Boston.

    The subtitle of Rachel Cohen’s luminous biography of legendary art critic and historian Bernard Berenson is “A Life in the Picture Trade.” This is an apt characterization given Berenson’s role in building some of the greatest private Renaissance art collections of America’s Gilded Age (most notably Isabel Stewart Gardner’s). But it’s also one that Berenson would have looked upon with more than a little horror, since admitting he engaged in any kind of “trade” would conflict with his carefully constructed self-image, worked out over a lifetime of secrecy and reinvention.

    Today, Berenson is