Gorer v Lever: Edgar Gorer and William Hesketh Lever - page 4
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Gorer v Duveen
Like Duveen, Gorer seemed to court controversy and the two would meet head-on in
the months leading up to Gorer's death on the Lusitania. By 1911, Gorer was making
noticeable inroads into the American market. It was at around this time he established
a working relationship with jeweller Michael Dreicer in New York.
Dreicer & Co. was by 1911 a highly successful and fashionable jeweller with
premises at 560 Fifth Avenue, an address, in terms of prestige, on a par with Bond
It seems likely that Gorer may have had existing contacts with Dreicers through
his jeweller father, Solomon, although Michael Dreicer was known as a connoisseur
of Chinese jade and porcelain. From about 1911, Gorer's letterhead advertised Dreicer
as the 'Sole Agent for the United States and Canada' and it was there that Gorer
exhibited the George R. Davies collection in 1913. He also
planned to exhibit the Henry Sampson collection at Dreicer's and it was for this
reason that Edgar embarked upon his journey to New York in January 1915. However,
at the back of his mind was another matter: one that would engage Gorer and his
admired rivals Henry and Joseph Joel Duveen in open conflict.
Unfortunately for Gorer, the controversy surrounding the pair of figures depicting
Vajrapani which had been a part of the Richard Bennett Collection and which Gorer
apparently labelled the 'Malevolent Gods', continued to dog him. The sale of the
remainder of the Bennett Collection returned by Lever took place in New York during
1913 and included the Vajrapani figures. Gorer believed that his American rivals
were using the disputed attribution of the figures to try and 'kill' his best sales
and undermine his reputation. It came to a head early in 1914 when Joseph
Joel Duveen was alleged to have condemned as fake a yellow-ground vase that Gorer
was about to sell to one of America's most influential collectors, Henry Clay Frick
(1849-1919). According to newspaper reports, Duveen said to Frick and his wife:
'That vase is not a genuine antique, does not belong to the Kang Hsi period, but
has been manufactured within the last seven years, and is an imitation of the genuine
article, and is spurious. Gorer has been imposed upon.' As Gorer
pointed out, this statement not only questioned the veracity of his dealership,
but also his knowledge as a specialist. It also destroyed his relationship with
Frick, who, Gorer claimed, refused to buy a further vase on offer to him because
of Duveen's criticisms and so deprived him of this and any future profits.
Gorer cited other occasions when J. J. Duveen made disparaging remarks of his abilities,
such as when he said to Carmen Messmore: 'Gorer knows nothing about porcelains.
The real judges are ourselves, my Uncle Henry and me, and we intend stopping Gorer
putting these fakes on the market.' Messmore was also witness
to Duveen's re-iterated allegation that the two Vajrapani figures were 'modern…and
not over fifteen years old.'
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Gorer's case against Henry Duveen, for which he was claiming $75,000 in damages,
rested upon a single but similar allegation that Duveen had declared that a pair
of green vases Gorer was selling were modern and that Gorer was 'dealing in fake
The case was to be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court because Gorer's reputation was
being impugned specifically in America. The New York Times of 8th May carried a
rebuttal of these allegations from Duveen Brothers. Both Joseph J. and Henry Duveen
claimed that they were not trying to discredit Gorer or undermine his standing among
collectors but simply giving expert advice to their clients, which was 'a major
part of their business.' Duveen's counsel claimed that clients often
requested expert advice from Duveen Brothers and this was given 'without regard
to the identity of the owner of the objects, whom they frequently do not know',
and that it was their duty to ensure the genuineness of objects to prevent the undermining
of the market.
As the report astutely noted, by intimation, this should also be a concern of Gorer.
The issue of whether Joseph and Henry Duveen had specifically condemned the articles
mentioned by Gorer in his lawsuit, was neatly sidestepped: 'they will be the subject
matter of the litigation, and will properly be dealt with in court and at the proper
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Gorer never had his day in court. At the time that the New York Times report was
published, he was already dead. He and a group of other British art dealers, including
Gerald Arthur Letts, Martin van Straaten and Frank Partridge, had decided to return
to Britain on the Lusitania departing from New York on 1st May, 1915. Seven days
later, at 2.10pm off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland, the ship was torpedoed by
a German submarine, the U-20. Within 18 minutes the ship had sunk. Of the 1,959
passengers and crew on board, only 761 survived, one of which was Gorer's friend
and companion on the voyage, Frank Partridge.James Henry Duveen relates
a characteristically dramatic account of Gorer's selflessness during the last minutes
of the sinking, giving away both of his lifebelts. Eye-witness
accounts tell of his bravery in saving opera singer Josephine Brandell, to whom
Gorer gave one of his lifebelts and told her to be brave. Edgar Gorer's
body was never recovered. The case against Duveen Brothers collapsed.
Despite certain doom-laden claims of Gorer's near ruin, his Estate at his death
was valued at $215,760 in America alone while in his Will, his widow, Rachel, was
left an outright payment of £5,000 and income for life from a trust fund of £50,000.
He also held 'regular stock' valued at $162,287. Details of his 'half ownership'
of stock with Dreicer & Co., which included the residue of the Sampson and Davies
collections, also indicate how it was possible for Gorer to outlay considerable
sums on the purchase of individual pieces and collections. As if to
haunt Gorer in his grave, the pair of Vajrapani figures top the list of items deemed
of uncertain authenticity, along with the yellow ground vase and the pair of green
vases, implicated by the Duveen Brothers.
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James Henry Duveen described Edgar Gorer as 'a great-hearted London dealer…who was
a bold winner and a brave loser' - a generous epitaph. Gorer's
human qualities were recalled in the short obituary in the Burlington Magazine.
It praised him for his equitable and far-seeing mind, acknowledged his support for
the Magazine in the past and his acceptance of the need for it to exercise independence
as regards its endorsement of the adverts it carried - a reference no doubt to Gorer's
run-in with R. L. Hobson.From today's perspective, it is more difficult
to assess Gorer as a dealer in Chinese art. He was perhaps the first dealer to promote
himself as a specialist in Chinese and Japanese art at the outset, eventually concentrating
upon Chinese art. The range of works he sold were however limited. In line with
the prevailing taste of the period before the First World War, Gorer dealt in porcelains
of the late-17th and 18th centuries together with 18th century jades and hardstones.
Objects he dated to earlier periods, such as Song and Ming, were highly suspect
at a time when there were few verifiable examples available in the West. Had he
lived, he would have experienced a dramatic shift in both the type of objects available
and the range in periods. Even by 1915, when R. L. Hobson published his Chinese
Pottery and Porcelain, examples of Han and Tang ceramics were already coming out
of China and impacting upon both the private collector and museum institutions,
as were a host of other artefacts. Whether Edgar Gorer would
have been able to make the shift and encompass this greater range and diversity
will never be known, but every indication is that he would. Nevertheless, there
was, as Gerald Reitlinger noted, 'something symbolical in the manner of his death,
since the torpedoing of the Lusitania was destined to bring the whole world into
the war and in the end destroy three empires. Of course, it did not destroy the
millionaire empires, but somehow millionaire taste emerged with a new look. Henceforward
a hostess, who changed her walls, ceiling, carpets, furniture and curtains to celadon
green in order to match two Ming dishes, would have to hide even the telephone directory.'
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