Watson, Peter 1943- (Peter Frank Patrick Watson)
Watson, Peter 1943- (Peter Frank Patrick Watson)
Born April 23, 1943, in Birmingham, England; son of Frank Patrick and Lilian Ethel Watson; married Nichola Theodas (marriage dissolved); married Lesley Rowlatt (marriage dissolved). Education: University of Durham, B.Sc. (with honors), 1964; University of Rome, diploma in music, 1965; University of London, Ph.D., 1967. Politics: Social Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Music, opera, painting, cricket, fishing, Italy.
Office—The Illicit Antiquities Research Centre, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Downing St., Cambridge CB2 3ER, England. Agent—Robert Ducas, 350 Hudson St., New York, NY, 10014. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer, art critic, editor, archaeologist, columnist, art historian, psychiatrist, and journalist. Tavistock Clinic, intern, 1966-68; New Society, London, England, assistant editor, 1970-73; Sunday Times, London, England, assistant editor, 1977-80; London Times, London, England, columnist, 1980-81, New York correspondent, 1981-82; research associate, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, 1997—.
PEN, Reform Club (London, England), British Psychological Society.
Psychology prize, University of Durham, 1961; Italian Government scholarship, University of Rome, 1965; Golden Dagger Award for best thriller, Crime Writers Association of Great Britain, 1983.
(Editor) Psychology and Race, Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1973, published with a foreword by M. Brewster Smith, Aldine (Chicago, IL), 1974, revised edition, Aldine Transaction (New Brunswick, NJ), 2007.
War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1978, abridged and revised edition, Penguin (New York, NY), 1980.
Twins: An Uncanny Relationship?, Viking (New York, NY), 1982.
Double-Dealer: How Five Art Dealers, Four Policemen, Three Picture Restorers, Two Auction Houses, and a Journalist Plotted to Recover Some of the World's Most Beautiful Stolen Paintings, Hutchinson (London, England), 1983, published as The Caravaggio Conspiracy: How Five Art Dealers, Four Policemen, Three Picture Restorers, Two Auction Houses, and a Journalist Plotted to Recover Some of the World's Most Beautiful Stolen Paintings, Penguin (New York, NY), 1985.
Wisdom and Strength: The Biography of a Renaissance Masterpiece, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1989.
From Manet to Manhattan: The Rise of the Modern Art Market, Random House (New York, NY), 1992.
The Nazi's Wife, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1985.
Stones of Treason, Hutchinson (London, England), 1985.
Landscape of Lies, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1989.
Capo, Richard Cohen Books (London, England), 1995.
Nureyev: A Biography, Hodder and Stoughton (London, England), 1994.
(With Ada Petrova) The Death of Hitler: The Final Words from Russia's Secret Archives, Richard Cohen Books (London, England), 1995.
Sotheby's: The Inside Story, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
The Stalin Picasso, Richard Cohen Books (London, England), 1997.
(With Neil Brodie and Jenny Doob) Stealing History: The Illicit Trade in Cultural Material, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research (Cambridge, England), 2000.
The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
A Terrible Beauty, Weidenfeld and Nicolson (London, England), 2001.
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
(With Cecilia Todeschini) The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities, from Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums, BBS PublicAffairs (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, Connoisseur, Art and Antiques, Punch, Observer (London, England), and New Statesman.
British writer, journalist, and former psychiatrist Peter Watson's work as an author divides neatly into three areas—psychology, art history, and fiction. His earliest books reflect his academic credentials in the field of social psychology. Psychology and Race is a collection of essays by various writers, which consider racial strife from a psychological perspective. In War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology, Watson prepares an investigative report about the military's use of psychological tools and methods; John Gretton in Spectator called the book "uncomfortable, if not frankly horrifying, reading." The volume Twins: An Uncanny Relationship? explores the patterns of behavior shared by identical twins. Watson's goal in this work, as Harry Nelson noted in the Los Angeles Times, is "to offer a rational alternative to mumbo jumbo for explaining many of the coincidences reported in twin studies."
In 1983 Watson switched genres and began issuing books relating to art history. Attracting wider critical notice, these works focus on the treasures of Renaissance art. In The Caravaggio Conspiracy: How Five Art Dealers, Four Policemen, Three Picture Restorers, Two Auction Houses, and a Journalist Plotted to Recover Some of the World's Most Beautiful Stolen Paintings—first published in England with the title Double-Dealer: How Five Art Dealers, Four Policemen, Three Picture Restorers, Two Auction Houses, and a Journalist Plotted to Recover Some of the World's Most Beautiful Stolen Paintings—Watson went undercover to pose as a shady art dealer named "John Blake." According to the volume, when "Blake" put the word out on the street that he wanted to buy stolen masterpieces, he was soon contacted by denizens of the art underworld—smugglers, fences, thieves, and forgers. Eventually, the author made contact with the thieves who, in 1969, entered a church in Sicily and stole a 1609 work titled "Nativity" by the Italian Renaissance painter Caravaggio. Critical response to The Caravaggio Conspiracy was positive. In Time, Patricia Blake called the book "enthralling," and in the Los Angeles Times Book Review Bart Mills concluded: "This detailed account of how a thoroughly prepared journalist entered an unfamiliar milieu of scholarship and duplicity, haggled successfully with ruffians, and wound up duping the dupers makes riveting reading."
Watson's second book of art history is Wisdom and Strength: The Biography of a Renaissance Masterpiece. This work traces the provenance of Venetian artist Paul Veronese's 1576 painting, "Allegory of Wisdom and Strength," which had more than twenty owners over the centuries. Wisdom and Strength features biographies of the painting's many owners, including the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, Queen Christina of Sweden, Thomas Hope (of Hope diamond fame), and American industrialist Henry Clay Frick. The volume also details the social and historical backdrops behind owners from various eras, factors that influenced how the painting was viewed. Wisdom and Strength was favorably received by critics. In the New York Times Book Review, Steve Coates praised the author's "flair for drama," and in the Washington Post Book World, Francis Haskell called attention to the book's "considerable spirit." Dick Kingzett concluded in the Spectator that "Watson's investigations … give a new depth to our own understanding of [the painting's] quality."
From Manet to Manhattan: The Rise of the Modern Art Market presents Watson's chronicle of the phenomenal interest in modern art, and the big-money market that rose to satisfy it, in the 1980s and early 1990s. Watson contrasts, for example, the chronic poverty of Vincent Van Gogh, a factor that likely led to his suicide in 1890 after completing his final painting, "Portrait of Dr. Gachet," with the 1990 sale of that very painting for a then-record eighty-two and a half million dollars. Watson delves deeply into the characteristics of the art market and the personalities, businesses, huge purchases, and conditions that allowed it to flourish. He recounts the intense rivalry between two prominent art auction houses, Sotheby's and Christies, and profiles a number of high-roller dealers and collectors. Watson also looks at many of the market's more unsavory elements, including frauds, forgeries, lawsuits, and thefts. Watson also assesses the very real and highly lucrative demand for art when "in the long term, art performs about half as well as other forms of investment, while in the short term the risks of buying far outweigh the rewards," noted Louisa Buck in New Statesman & Society. Given this reality, the drive to collect and possess art may have "more to do with art's almost alchemical ability to confer connoisseurship and culture upon even the most coarse of customers," Buck mused.
"There are books to be consulted for reference, books to be read for pleasure, and books that exist simply to be seen on the shelf. Manet to Manhattan is a bit of all three," remarked Henry Geldzahler in an Artforum International review. In his "colorful, anecdotal history," Watson "entertainingly covers art scandals, big deals and changing fashions," commented a Publishers Weekly critic. "As a work of reference From Manet to Manhattan is invaluable," Buck stated. "Part of the undeniable charm of Mr. Watson's book is the relish with which he tells this story," remarked an Economist reviewer.
In addition to nonfiction, Watson is the author of several novels. The Nazi's Wife tells of an American's efforts to thwart a plot that would finance—with a stash of rare stolen coins—the escape of Nazi war criminals from post-World War II Germany. While some critics voiced concern about the story's slow pacing, the book was noted for its effective descriptions of postwar Germany. Watson had more critical success with two subsequent novels, Stones of Treason and Landscape of Lies, books that draw on the author's vast and appreciative knowledge of Western art. At the center of Stones of Treason are the Elgin Marbles and artwork plundered by the Nazis. In Landscape of Lies, an English heiress and a London art dealer team up to find a stolen sixteenth-century painting that holds the key to the location of a monastic treasure hidden by agents of King Henry VIII. In the Chicago Tribune Books, Kevin Moore noted that the story is less interested in characterization than in the complexities of plot, leading him to call Landscape of Lies an "engrossing tale" that takes the reader on a "roller-coaster ride."
Watson worked with Russian television journalist Ada Petrova to produce The Death of Hitler: The Full Story with New Evidence from Secret Russian Archives. Richard Breitman of the Washington Post Book World felt that even more significant than the few additional details of the final days of Hitler was the separate story of the Russian investigations into Hitler's death. Breitman found the narrative of the secret Russian findings "valuable, if partial," and suggested that the book may lead others to "pursue new leads."
In 1999 Watson's interest in opera led him to direct Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at the Boston Lyric Opera. Deborah Weisgall praised the production in Opera News for the simplicity of Watson's direction, the well-balanced teamwork of its cast, and the precision of Jane Glover's conducting. In 2001 Watson directed La Traviata at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, a production that was also critically acclaimed.
The publication of Sotheby's: The Inside Story, highly profiled in the media, sent shock waves through the art world. A work of investigative journalism, the book provides painstaking documentary evidence of Sotheby's practice of smuggling works of art from their countries of origin in order to sell the pieces at prices higher than they would bring in their home countries. The project took Watson ten years to research, and he traveled thousands of miles through Europe, Asia, and the United States, tracing the paths of pilfered objects d'art. Posing as an art dealer, Watson shadowed tomb robbers, followed sacred Hindu sculptures, and even arranged to purchase a minor Old Master painting as part of a sting operation funded by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Initially tipped off by a Sotheby's ex-employee, who provided innumerable company documents detailing the illegal transit of antiquities, Watson's venture into the art world as journalist-cum-detective and what he found in the most elite of auction houses brought to light the murky practices many had long suspected. Watson wrote the story in what an Economist reviewer called "cold-war thriller mode." Richard McGill Murphy of the New Leader praised the book for its "investigatory rigor and moral clarity." The story was also broadcast as a film documentary on the BBC in Britain and on CBS's Sixty Minutes in the United States.
Watson looks at another scandalous and illegal aspect of the art and antiquities market in The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities, from Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums, written with Cecilia Todeschini. In this book, Watson and Todeschini profile Giacomo Medici, an Italian antiquities and art dealer found guilty of looting in 2005. The authors carefully reconstruct Medici's elaborate network of Tombaroli, or tomb robbers, and trace the stolen materials through dealers and middlemen to well-known and respected auction houses and museums. Watson and Todeschini assert that Medici "supplied most, if not all, of the major collections of classical antiquities that have been established since WWII," whether through legal means or, more likely, through looted and stolen artworks, noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. The authors also cover a number of successful investigations by Italian authorities that have resulted in the recovery of many stolen items.
Set in the Sicilian underworld of late-nineteenth-century Sicily and New Orleans, the novel Capo traces the life of orphan Sylvano Randazzo, who escapes Italy with his Uncle Nino after Nino abducts and disfigures an English priest. Sylvano grows into the world of crime under the tutelage of his uncle and eventually becomes a "capo," or a branch head of a crime syndicate. Publishers Weekly called the book "as mesmerizing as it is violent," which is "all the more chilling though abundant use of historical fact, precise language, and authentic glimpses of bustling city life."
The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century examines three prominent intellectual currents in twentieth-century thought: science, free-market economics, and mass media. Michael Spinella of Booklist called the study "an engaging though lengthy record," which "touches on pretty much everything." The exhaustive attention to detail present in Watson's earlier works is also shown here. Panoramic in scope, "in forty-two chapters, Watson travels from Freud to the Internet," Thomas A. Karel observed in Library Journal. Broad rather than deep, the book makes important connections between intellectual movements, people, and events at what a Publishers Weekly contributor called "a frenetic pace." Although the details have changed, Watson found that the century ended itself engaged in the same enthusiasm for science and technology with which it began.
In A Terrible Beauty Watson offers a chronological survey of major twentieth-century intellectual ideas and people in a variety of disciplines, including science, art, music, literature, philosophy, and religion. According to Watson, "the dominant intellectual trend, the most interesting, enduring, and profound development, is very clear. Our century has been dominated intellectually by a coming to terms with science." National Post reviewer Paul Mitchinson commented that "Watson traces the outlines of major scientific discoveries and minor literary figures alike, deftly and sympathetically." Although Mitchinson found Watson's survey of artists "less effective" and felt the book lacked "narrative coherence," he called it "a gripping, enlightening account of a wondrous century."
Watson turns again to the broad background of the mind and thought as he "surveys intellectual history for a popular audience" in Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud, reported Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor. He traces the development of ideas in both Western and non-Western culture, looking at the convergence of ideas and the creation of language, religion, cities, science, philosophy, law, and many other intellectual, social, and cultural areas. Watson "gives us an astonishing overview of human intellectual development which covers everything from the emergence of language to the discovery of the unconscious, including the idea of the factory and the invention of America, the eclipse of the idea of the soul in 19th-century materialism and the continuing elusiveness of the self," noted New Statesman reviewer John Gray. "It's all a bit of a whirlwind tour of the best brains ever, and it's not quite clear who it's aimed at. Eggheads will consider it beneath them. Anyone else will find it a bit daunting," remarked Harry Mount in a Spectator review. "Stiff drink required, then—but your brain will be bigger after you've read it."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antioch Review, summer, 1993, review of From Manet to Manhattan: The Rise of the Modern Art Market.
Antiquity, June, 1997, David Gill, review of Sotheby's: The Inside Story, p. 18.
Artforum International, summer, 1993, Henry Geldzahler, review of From Manet to Manhattan, p. 98.
ARTnews, May, 1993, Bonnie Barrett Stretch, review of From Manet to Manhattan, p. 92.
Booklist, November 15, 1992, Donna Seaman, review of From Manet to Manhattan, p. 571; March 15, 2001, Michael Spinella, review of The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century, p. 1352; September 15, 2005, Gilbert Taylor, review of Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud, p. 23.
Bookseller, June 30, 2006, review of The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities, from Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums, p. 40.
Books in Canada, November, 2005, Patrick Watson, "Developing Man," review of Ideas, p. 22.
Boston Herald, March 26, 1999, Ellen Pfeifer, "‘Figaro’ Is Marriage of Wit, Revolution," p. 8.
Choice, March, 1993, G. Eager, review of From Manet to Manhattan, p. 1136; October, 2006, F.W. Robinson, review of The Medici Conspiracy, p. 287.
Civil Engineering, November, 2005, review of Ideas, p. 70.
Economist, January 16, 1993, review of From Manet to Manhattan, p. 90; March 14, 1998, review of Sotheby's, p. S12.
Entertainment Weekly, January 30, 1998, Megan Harlan, review of Sotheby's, p. 60.
Futurist, September 1, 2003, Michael Michalko, "From Bright Ideas to Right Ideas: Capturing the Creative Spark; Thinking in New Ways Opens the Mind to Boundless Possibilities and Creative Solutions," p. 52.
Houston Chronicle, July 5, 1998, Richard H. Hanneman, "Sotheby's History, Exposé Are Offered," p. 21.
Independent (London, England), December 12, 2000, Frank McLynn, "‘Tuesday Book’ a Bumpy Ride through 100 Years of Great Ideas," p. 5.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1997, review of Sotheby's, p. 1764.
Library Journal, December 1992, Vicki Gadberry, review of From Manet to Manhattan, p. 138; February 15, 1998, Martin R. Kalfatovic, review of Sotheby's, p. 138; March 1, 2001, Thomas A. Karel, review of The Modern Mind, p. 114.
London Review of Books, March 18, 1999, review of Sotheby's, p. 28.
Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1982, Harry Nelson, review of Twins: An Uncanny Relationship?
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 22, 1984, Bart Mills, review of The Caravaggio Conspiracy: How Five Art Dealers, Four Policemen, Three Picture Restorers, Two Auction Houses, and a Journalist Plotted to Recover Some of the World's Most Beautiful Stolen Paintings, p. 4.
National Post, February 10, 2001, Paul Mitchinson, "Jumping around in the Twentieth Century, without Pop Music."
New Leader, February 23, 1998, Richard McGill Murphy, review of Sotheby's, p. 15.
New Republic, April 25, 1994, Michael Lewis, review of From Manet to Manhattan, p. 27.
New Statesman, May 30, 2005, John Gray, "Lost in Thought," review of Ideas, p. 48.
New Statesman & Society, January 22, 1993, Louisa Buck, review of From Manet to Manhattan, p. 38.
Newsweek, January 18, 1993, Peter Plagens, review of From Manet to Manhattan, p. 58; February 17, 1997, "Sotheby's Reputation on the Block: Art Market," p. 63.
New York, September 14, 1992, review of From Manet to Manhattan, p. 112.
New Yorker, December 14, 1992, Calvin Tomkins, review of From Manet to Manhattan, p. 136.
New York Review of Books, May 25, 2006, Hugh Eakin, "Notes from Underground," review of The Medici Conspiracy, p. 49.
New York Times Book Review, January 5, 1986, Desmond Ryan, review of The Nazi's Wife, p. 16; November 26, 1989, Steve Coates, review of Wisdom and Strength: The Biography of a Renaissance Masterpiece, p. 31; May 10, 1998, Marie-Pierre Brouillet, review of Sotheby's, p. 20.
New York Times Magazine, December 11, 2005, Deborah Solomon, "What's the Big Idea?," interview with Peter Watson, p. 31.
Observer (London, England), November 5, 1995, review of Capo, p. 16.
Opera News, August, 1999, Deborah Weisgall, "From around the World: Boston," p. 66.
Publishers Weekly, November 9, 1992, review of From Manet to Manhattan, p. 70; January 13, 1997, review of Capo, p. 56; November 24, 1997, review of Sotheby's, p. 60; February 19, 2001, review of The Modern Mind; March 27, 2006, review of The Medici Conspiracy, p. 76.
Quadrant, June, 2007, "What Were We Thinking?," review of Ideas, p. 90.
Reference & Research Book News, February, 2006, review of Ideas.
Spectator, April 22, 1978, John Gretton, review of War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology, p. 22; December 1, 1990, Dick Kingzett, review of Wisdom and Strength, pp. 41-42; June 18, 2005, Harry Mount, "Great Wheezes of the World," review of Ideas, p. 35.
Time, January 16, 1984, Patricia Blake, review of The Caravaggio Conspiracy, p. 72.
Times (London, England), February 6, 1997, review of Sotheby's, p. 14.
Times Literary Supplement, August 1, 1997, review of Sotheby's, p. 18; October 6, 2006, Nigel Spivey, "Grave Misdemeanours," review of The Medici Conspiracy, p. 7.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), March 4, 1990, Kevin Moore, review of Landscape of Lies, p. 6.
Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1998, review of Sotheby's, p. 15.
Washington Post Book World, June 11, 1989, Francis Haskell, review of Wisdom and Strength, p. 7; April 14, 1996, Richard Breitman, "Last Days of a Despot," p. X04.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (February 26, 1998), Jennifer Howard, review of Sotheby's.