Benjamin Gilbert Hargrove and his twin brother, Patrick Gabriel Hargrove, were raised in a world of Chinese art. Throughout their youth, their mother received objects from overseas and negotiated sales with dealers in San Francisco. When they were older, they made several trips to China with their father.
It was through Gilbert that Benjamin met art collector Laurence Sickman in Shanghai in 1931. Close in age, the two young men hit it off, and Sickman showed Benjamin how he was able to gain admittance into the back rooms of Chinese art dealers, where they kept their most valuable artifacts.
Having received his art history degree in 1928, Benjamin kept records for his father's business and continued his studies by seeking mentorship with Bernard Berenson, a leading art critic and collector of the time. While he eschewed Berenson's emphasis on emotional reaction to an art object as evidence of forgery, Benjamin learned to look for artists' "fingerprints" such as brush strokes, pigment composition, and canvas texture when examining a painting, and telltale signs of modern materials and tools in sculpture.
When an unidentified dealer attempted to sell an "18th century" portrait to industrialist Alfred DuPont for the exorbitant price of $25,000, Benjamin accompanied curator Arthur Simons to the scene. As Simons expressed suspicion on the painting's authenticity, the price dropped to $10,000, and then to $1,000. Benjamin suggested, and Simons concurred, that it showed signs of overpainting, but agreed with DuPont that the frame itself was worth several hundred dollars, so it was purchased. When the forged overpainting was removed, it was discovered that it had been covering up Madonna and Child by Baroque painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, valued at $150,000.
Intrigued by this turn of events, Benjamin threw himself into the business of authentication. Having inherited his father's eye for art, this was a field for which he had particular talent. His increasing knowledge proved useful as he began providing authentication and verifying provenance at the newly renamed Hargrove and Son. Soon, he built a strong reputation, and his integrity as an authenticator was sought by many collectors and museums the world over.
During World War II, Major Laurence Sickman dealt with intelligence in the Pacific theatre, and had volunteered for the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, recovering art that had been stolen by the Nazi Party. When he learned that Benjamin Hargrove had enlisted in the army, Sickman requested him as a member of his team, along with Sherman Lee and Patrick Lennox Tierney, working at General MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo. His further authentication experience proved a valuable resource—and commodity—when he returned to the United States after the war.
1947 was a very full and emotional year for Benjamin. In January, he married longtime sweetheart Flora Torres. The following month, his estranged twin brother, Patrick, died of liver disease, caused by a lifetime of alcoholism. In October, Benjamin traveled to Amsterdam to testify in the trial of Dutch art forger Han van Meegeren, and in December, his first child, Roger, was born. (The couple had two more children: Violet, in 1948, and Rose, in 1950.)
Benjamin, now well-known in the world of art authentication and conservation, published his 1950 book, Framing the Dark: The Shadowy World of Art Forgery. In it, he wrote about a wide range of his experience with forgeries, but since it was the first time he'd ever spoken publicly about his involvement in his brother's conviction, it garnered a flurry of media attention for this alone.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Benjamin became a consultant and advised museums in the practices of art conservation and restoration. His work frequently took him to Europe, and he often traveled for pleasure to Africa and South America, where he continued collecting masks and other artifacts from various cultures.
When his old friend Laurence Sickman was appointed director of the Nelson Gallery of Art in 1953, Benjamin attended the ceremony. In the mid-1970s, Benjamin introduced Sickman to the Oddy test, a conservation technique used to test materials for safety in and around art objects. The two remained friends until Benjamin died of natural causes in 1983, at the age of 78.
Wedding photo of Benjamin and Flora Hargrove in 1947.
Gilbert Hargrove (1870-1940)
Nancy Jane Woodall (1876-1948)
Patrick Hargrove (1905-1947)
Flora Torres (1922-2005)
Roger Hargrove (b. 1947)
Violet Hargrove (b. 1948)
Rose Hargrove (b. 1950)
|This website is a companion to the "The Hargrove Family History" exhibit by Tara Varney and Bryan Colley at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which runs from December 2012 to March 2013. You can find out more about the artists at www.jupiterkansas.com.|