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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sam Waterston, Brian Murray Star June 20 and 27 at the Metropolitan Museum in Staged Readings of Berenson-Duveen Drama, The Old Masters

Simon Gray’s intense drama of friendship, ethics, and doom involving two leading luminaries of the pre-World War II European art world—The Old Masters—will be revived for an exclusive, two-evenings-only staged reading at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on consecutive Mondays, June 20 and June 27, at 7 p.m.
The original cast from the play’s February American premiere limited engagement at the Long Wharf Theater will be re-assembled for these readings, including the award-winning actor Sam Waterston as Bernard Berenson (1865-1959) and Brian Murray as the famed art dealer Lord Joseph Duveen (1869-1939). Shirley Knight, Heidi Schreck, and Rufus Collins will also re-create the roles they originated in New Haven. Michael Rudman directs. John Martello and Elliot Martin produced the Long Wharf engagement.
The drama deals with the world-renowned art historian Berenson (Waterston) and Lord Duveen (Murray), longtime associates who meet for a final, explosive encounter at I Tatti, Berenson’s villa in Florence. Unfolding in the looming shadow of the rise of Italian Fascism, the two giants conduct an epic battle over the intrinsic value of art and money, connoisseurship and profits, as they debate a putative Renaissance masterpiece, The Adoration of the Shepherds, whose attribution to Giorgione the scholar Berenson questions, insisting it is the work of his more famous student, Titian.
This specialized dispute leads to the final, cathartic moments of a controversial professional relationship built on a combination of rivalry and mutual dependence. Berenson tries almost desperately to retain his reputation and influence in the final European phase of his storied career, while Duveen remains unaware that the Nazis will soon end his days as a Continental dealer and drive him to America.
The Metropolitan Museum has a long, historic connection with Lord Duveen. Over the years, the Museum acquired some 124 European paintings that passed through his gallery, among them one of the Met’s most beloved works, Francisco Goya’s late-18th-century portrait of the son of King Charles III of Spain, Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga, along with four Van Dycks, a Vermeer, and seven Rembrandts, including Aristotle with a Bust of Homer. Among the major Museum donors who acquired masterpieces through Duveen, and then donated or left those works to the Metropolitan, were J. P. Morgan, Benjamin Altman, Arabella Huntington, and Jules Bache. Edward Fowles, then the President of Duveen Brothers in America, donated the Duveen Archives to the Metropolitan in 1968. The Met, which used the material for decades to conduct extensive research on its Duveen acquisitions, in turn donated the trove to the Getty Research Institute in 1994. The Museum has since acquired a 450-reel microfilm copy of the archive, which is available to researchers in its Thomas J. Watson Library. Everett Fahy, former chairman of the Met’s European Paintings Department, called it “truly the most significant collection of records amassed by any art dealership based in Western Europe.”
Tickets for The Old Masters are $20 for adults, $10 for students. To order, visit the Museum’s Great Hall box office, call 212-570-3949, or order from

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