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Rachel Cohen

BB starred in Booklist, reviewed in Wall Street Journal, Gallerist

Recent press for Bernard Berenson: a Life in the Picture Trade, includes this starred review by Donna Seaman in Booklist:

Cohen (A Chance Meeting, 2004) presents the most dynamic biography yet of the groundbreaking art historian Bernard Berenson. Strung between the Old World and the New, scholarly pursuits and the marketplace, Berenson was influential, controversial, and conflicted. Born Bernhard Valvrojenski in Lithuania, in 1865, he immigrated with his poor Jewish family to Boston and by dint of his ardent reading, passion for beauty, acute intelligence, and incessant ambition turned himself into a Harvard-educated Episcopalian, then a Catholic, and ultimately the prince of art connoisseurs living in Italy in the Villa I Tatti and amassing a renowned library. Cohen investigates Berenson’s contradictions, metamorphoses, and dramatically unconventional life with vivacious authority, drawing on his 40,000 letters (!) and landmark books. Here are the key aspects of Berenson’s complicated relationship with his aspiring patron, Isabella Stewart Gardner; his shadowy association with legendary art dealer Joseph Duveen; his long adulterous affair with and subsequent open marriage to “headstrong” Mary Smith Costelloe; his crucial friendship with Edith Wharton; his infatuation with mysterious Belle da Costa Greene, J. P. Morgan’s librarian; and his reliance on resourceful and loyal Nicky Mariano, who saved his life during WWII. Cohen deftly channels the sweeping intensity of Berenson’s aesthetic ecstasy, hard-won expertise, surprising adventures, and vital legacy as a guide to appreciating art via “exhilarated looking.”

— Donna Seaman

In the Wall Street Journal, Hugh Eakin writes: "Cohen draws a psychological portrait of a man guided by passionate aesthetic ideals and tortured by the compromises in the world of commerce that he felt compelled to make.... If you live in an American city, there's a good chance that you can go to a museum today and see an exquisite Sienese Madonna, or a Venetian Holy Family, or a Florentine portrait. You have Berenson—and his collector-acolytes—to thank."

The Gallerist features a story from the book about Berenson, Wharton, and Da Vinci: