Picks and Pans Review: The Rare Art Traditions

updated 01/10/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/10/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Joseph Alsop

A mainstay of U.S. journalism for four decades, Joseph Alsop has put his fingerprints on the history of his times. He reportedly instigated pressure on his distant relative Franklin Roosevelt to order the transfer of mothballed American destroyers to Britain in 1940, hastening America's entry into World War II. His arrival in any theater of combat from Korea to Vietnam was the panic signal for general staffs. Now, at 72, and eight years after retiring from his famous newspaper column, Alsop has brought forth a fat volume of art history which is likely to provoke controversy in some quarters and will certainly become a standard reference work. Subtitled The History of Art Collecting and Its Linked Phenomena, it is nothing less than a review of art husbandry among all creatures, from the mating-game lures of the bower bird to the classic art amassed by the Medicis to William Randolph Hearst, whose omniverous collection included an Italian primitive Madonna which he unaccountably gave his mistress, actress Marion Davies. (It provoked Dorothy Parker's acidulous quatrain: Upon my honor, I saw a Madonna/Hanging within a niche/Above the door of the private whore/Of the world's worst son of a bitch.) The book is heavy going at times. Still, Alsop is a credentialed connoisseur, and his book is a scholarly, carefully researched achievement. (Harper & Row, $59.95)

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