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The Old Masters (play)

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Written by  Simon Gray
Original language  English
Playwright  Simon Gray
Genre  Drama
Date premiered  4 June 2004
First performance  4 June 2004
Setting  Villa I Tatti
The Old Masters (play) t2gstaticcomimagesqtbnANd9GcRXFh8QV2Ytkc4iYy
Place premiered  Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Similar  Simon Gray plays, Dramas

The Old Masters is a play by Simon Gray about the art critic Bernard Berenson and the art dealer Joseph Duveen. It is set over one evening in Berenson's Italian home, Villa I Tatti, near Florence, in 1937.



  • BB (Bernard Berenson)
  • Mary, Berenson's wife
  • Nicky Mariano, Berenson's secretary
  • Fowles, Duveen's assistant
  • Joseph Duveen
  • Synopsis

    The play opens on the garden of Villa I Tatti near Florence. The famous art critic Bernard Berenson, referred to as ‘BB’, is fearful of the rising power of Mussolini, who he refers to as ‘the Duck’, and increasingly anxious about the state of his finances. His wife, Mary, is in poor health while he continues having an affair with his secretary, Nicky. Duveen's assistant Fowles arrives to deliver a copy of a painting, and to tell Berenson that Duveen would like him to reconsider his attribution of a painting, The Adoration of the Shepherds. Berenson has already declared it to be by Titian, but Duveen would like him to change his mind and attribute it to Giorgione, and so increase its value considerably. Duveen is keen to sell the painting to the art collector, Mellon. Other art critics have already decided it is a Giorgione, but Berenson, whose reputation is pre-eminent, refuses to change his mind. Fowles leaves. Later that evening Duveen arrives, unannounced, to convince Berenson to change his mind in person. From there the intense and turbulent nature of their long working relationship unfolds.

    Original Production

    The Old Master was first performed at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in England on 4 June 2004, before moving to the Comedy Theatre, London, from 1 July 2004. It was directed by Harold Pinter with the following cast:

  • BB – Edward Fox
  • Mary – Barbara Jefford
  • Nicky – Sally Dexter
  • Fowles – Steven Pacey
  • Duveen – Peter Bowles
  • In June 2010 a US production of the play was announced, starring Brian Murray and Sam Waterston. It was due to run at the Long Wharf Theatre from 19 January to 13 February 2011, before moving to New York.


    The Old Masters (play) Wikipedia

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