For more than 50 years, Stanley Moss has dealt in fine works of art, particularly the Spanish and Italian Old Masters. He has placed paintings at The Louvre, The Prado, The Metropolitan Museum, The Getty Museum, and The National Galleries of America, Canada, Australia, and Greece, among others.
Art People by John Russell
In general, and with one or two significant exceptions, art dealing is a high-visibility profession. To be seen, to be known, to be talked about—all these are almost mandatory. Stanley Moss doesn't fit into that category, and indeed he doesn't fit into any of the normal business categories. Most big-city businesses go down the drain if the head man thinks more about writing poetry than about making deals and spends much of his time fishing, cooking, and making terrific meals somewhere in the country with his wife and family.
But it is through Stanley Moss, the established poet, and not through one of the great international houses, that the Louvre in Paris acquired not long ago a painting that most authorities have come to acknowledge as a portrait of Sigismondo Malatesta by Piero della Francesca. This is the Louvre's first Piero, and indeed it is the only painting by Piero in any French museum.
The Piero is however only one of the major paintings that have lately gone to museums all over the world through the activities of Stanley Moss. There was the Zurbaran still life that went to Norton Simon. There was a great Lotto that went to Canada, and a Tiepolo ceiling that went to Australia. There was a Goya, "St. Ambrose," that went to Cleveland. Every one of these came from one of the last sources in Italy of Old Masters in abundance.
The source in question is the collection of Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, who died in 1953. In Italy, where few things move fast, it took the Italian Government 16 years to decide what to do with the collection, which numbered around 150 items. It may be relevant that the Italian poet Roberto Papi was Contini-Bonacossi's son-in-law, and that Stanley Moss is also a gifted linguist who has lived a great deal abroad and has (according to more than one of his friends) an exceptionally impressive and powerful presence.
Be that as it may, Mr. Moss became fast friends with the Contini-Bonacossi heirs. When the Italian government began to allow a part of the collection to leave the country, Mr. Moss acted as their agent, whether by himself or in association with others. All went well, and he has since become an important factor—an "eminence grise," in the words of one good judge—in the international Old Masters market.
Is there a lesson to be drawn from all this? Not really. The combination of versifying homebody with heavyweight cosmopolitan is not one that is likely to recur. Art dealing at the top level has always been an individualistic affair, and nowhere more so than in the case of Stanley Moss, who never intended to become an art dealer at all but had to find a way to make enough money while he went on writing poetry.