The sitter was born on October 14, 1869 in Hull in Yorkshire, the eldest son of the thirteen children of Sir Joseph Joel Duveen who founded the famous art dealing business with his brother Henry. Joseph Duveen was knighted in 1919, created a Baronet in 1926, and created a Peer in 1933. He died at Claridges Hotel, London, on May 25, 1939.
S.N. Behrman, Duveen, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1952, 1972
Edward Fowles, Memories of Duveen Brothers, Times Books, London, 1976
Colin Simpson, The Partnership, Bodley Head, London, 1987.
Meryle Secrest, Duveen: A Life in Art, hardback, New York, 2004; paperback, Chicago 2005.
The present portrait of Duveen appears to have been executed in early 1923 when the sitter was nearly 54. The portrait was reproduced in an almost completed state on the easel in The New York Herald picture article of the artist in his studio, no doubt published because Muller-Ury had completed several portraits of Pope Pius XI in the summer of 1922 and in March 1923 he had been honoured by the pope with a Knighthood of St. Gregory the Great. The caption to the photograph reads ‘Although Muller-Ury never laughs during a sitting, Sir Joseph Duveen has just told an anecdote that compels the artist to break his rule.’
In 2020 there appeared for sale online, as from a private collection in Romania of numerous watches, a silver American Elgin pocket watch, manufactured in approximately 1898, which was inscribed ‘For/A. Muller-Ury/best portraitist/and devoted friend/1923/Sir Joseph Duveen’, which was almost certainly given to the artist after the completion of this portrait. Enquiries to the owner revealed that it had been purchased in England having originally been acquired by the seller from whom it was purchased, at a garage sale/flea market in the USA. How the watch left the possession of the artist is unknown as most of his personal effects, including his gold pocket watch, were returned to Switzerland by his brother Otto in 1947/1948.
Meryle Secrest has recently described the present portrait as ‘particularly sympathetic…uncharacteristic and revealing’ and one cannot doubt that after more than thirty years acquaintance Muller-Ury had indeed been able to portray something of the inner restlessness that drove his friend.
It is known that a portrait of Duveen was exhibited at the artist’s last show ‘Portraits and Roses’ at French & Co. Inc, New York, April 21 – May 3, 1947, as No. 11, but which of the three portraits is unknown. An extra lot called Portrait of Sir Joseph Duveen was sold at the Plaza Art Galleries, 9-11, East 59th Street, New York, Friday Evening, December 5, 1947, Sale No. 2813, as Lot 75C (Sold for $20.00 – marked copy in the Frick Art Reference Library).