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Her Serene Highness: A Novel

200 pages
Library of Alexandria
ON the top floor of Grafton’s house, in Michigan Avenue, there was a room filled with what he called “the sins of the fathers”—the bad pictures and statuary come down from two generations of more or less misdirected enthusiasm for art. In old age his father had begun this collection; forty years of dogged pursuit of good taste taught him much. Grafton completed it as soon as he came into possession. In him a Grafton at last combined right instinct and right judgment. Although he was not yet thirty, every picture dealer of note in America and Europe knew him, and he knew not only them but also a multitude of small dealers with whom he carefully kept himself unknown. He was no mere picture buyer. The pretentious plutocrats of that class excited in him contempt—and resentment. How often had one of them destroyed, with a coarse fling of a moneybag, his subtle plans to capture a remarkable old picture at a small price. For he was a true collector—he knew pictures, he knew where they were to be found, he knew how to lie in wait patiently, how to search secretly. And no small part of his pride in his acquisitions came from what they represented as exhibits of his skill as a collector. A few months before his father died they were in New York and went together to see the collection of that famous plutocratic wholesale picture buyer, Henry Acton. “Do you see the young Spaniard over there?” said the father, pointing to one of the best-placed pictures in the room. The son looked at it and was at once struck by the boldness, the imagination with which it was painted. “Acton has it credited to Velasquez,” he said. “It does look something like Velasquez, but it isn’t, I’m certain.” “That picture was one of my costly mistakes,” continued the elder Grafton. “I bought it as a Velasquez. I was completely taken in—paid eleven thousand dollars for it in Paris about twenty-five years ago. But I soon found out what I’d done. How the critics did laugh at me! When the noise quieted down I sold it. It was shipped back to Paris and they palmed it off on Acton.”