Duveen, by S. N. Behrman. New York: Harmony Books/Crown Publishers Inc. 180 pp. $6.95

Art dealer Joseph Duveen was a remarkable man, who, early in this century, became the funnel through which many great European works flowed to the United States, to become the foundations for some of America's finest museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery. Multimillionaires like J.P. Morgan, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon were all conquered by Duveen.

There were competitors in the rich field of art dealing, but Duveen often managed to outbid and outmaneuver them by convincing collectors they had not bought great art unless they bought from him. Duveen's large role in creating the National Gallery in Washington was not entirely philanthropic. ''Gifts to museums offered his clients not merely economy but immortality. Using Duveen's method, an aged American millionaire could, in good conscience, circumvent oblivion and the Collector of Internal Revenue at a single stroke,'' Berhman wryly notes. This lively biography, out of print since 1972, splendidly captures Duveen's life, his times, and the circles in which he moved.

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