Every Work of Art Had Its Story by Francis Naumann

New York | 29 January 2021

I met Hester and Harold Diamond through a mutual friend in the late 1970s. I was invited to their home one evening for dinner and I immediately found them and their friends to be among the most fascinating people I have ever known. Their apartment was filled with paintings and sculptures by artists whose work was only known to me from museums or reproductions in books: Kandinsky, Brancusi, Picasso, Léger, Mondrian. Harold was an art dealer, and although he grilled me at that first meeting for whatever sources of art works in private collections I might be in a position to provide, he did so in the most charming and engaging way imaginable. Indeed, to me, Harold was pure entertainment. There was not a topic of conversation that he did not make more interesting, more possibly due to his delivery than whatever he was talking about. I was then writing my dissertation on the circle of artists and writers who congregated at the apartment of Walter and Louise Arensberg during the years of World War I, and these dinners with the Diamonds were the closest to an artistic salon that I had ever personally experienced. You never knew who you would meet at dinner—collectors, dealers, writers, musicians, artists and widows of artists— but you always knew they would be among the most interesting people to whom you would ever have the pleasure of being introduced. There must have been something about me that the Diamonds found worthwhile, too, because they kept inviting me back, and, as a result, I could rely upon a wonderfully cooked and delicious meal in the presence of great company on a regular basis for the next forty years.

“Although the guests at her dinner parties remained fascinating, whenever we arrived at her home, the first thing she wanted us to see was her newest acquisition, which she presented with the excitement of a child unwrapping a present.”

After Harold died, Hester continued inviting me to dinner and, I am proud to say, usually arranged for me to sit right next to her, as we would exchange stories not only about the art world, but about events in our lives that we wanted to share with one another. She was the consummate host, greeting her guests warmly and making them feel comfortable in such obviously opulent surroundings. She was always elegantly dressed and, although she came from comparatively modest means, she radiated an air of sophistication and elegance that was completely natural and without pretense.

In the late 1980s, I met Hester by chance one day on Madison Avenue. She had just come out of a hair appointment, and, because my twin brother Otto was an Old Master dealer with a gallery on 80th Street, I invited her to stop by for a visit. We found “Although the guests at her dinner parties remained fascinating, whenever we arrived at her home, the first thing she wanted us to see was her newest acquisition, which she presented with the excitement of a child unwrapping a present.” him engaged with a class of students, explaining the intricacies of certain Dutch and Flemish paintings, and Hester got hooked. She bought her first Old Master painting from Otto (a Flemish painting of a Crucifixion that she later deaccessioned, because she felt that it did not live up to the quality of other works she subsequently acquired). A few days after she bought the picture, she called me and said that I should receive a commission. I refused, because I said she was my friend. She explained that she also invites her doctor to dinner on a regular basis and considers him a friend, but he would never think of not sending her a bill for his services, so why not me? Eventually, upon her insistence, I acquiesced, and told her that I had my eye on the replica of a Frank Lloyd Wright table I had seen at the Design Center in Queens. Since she worked as an interior decorator, she received a substantial discount on the purchase of new furniture, so she bought the table and arranged for it to be sent to my apartment. I still have that table and it reminds me of Hester and her generosity every time I see it.

Over the years, Hester would continue to invite me to her dinner parties and, when I got married in the early 1990s, she also became friends with my wife Terry. Over the years, we watched and marveled as her home grew in size (she acquired the apartments adjacent to hers) and changed dramatically in style (with furnishings that were as strikingly new and colorful as the art works were historic and old). We both got to know her second husband, Ralph Kaminsky, and, through him, the world of classical and avant-garde music, and then later, her third husband Dave Wilson, with whom I shared an interest in flying small, single engine planes. Although the guests at her dinner parties remained fascinating, whenever we arrived at her home, the first thing she wanted us to see was her newest acquisition, which she presented with the excitement of a child unwrapping a present. Every work of art had its story, and she loved telling the details of how she found it, whether in a gallery, at an art fair, or how a specific work of art caught her attention in the crowded, dusty storeroom of an antiquarian dealer in Europe. She was always on the quest for something new, and she was always anxious to share the excitement of her newest discovery with her wide, and seemingly endless circle of friends.


About the Author

Francis M. Naumann
Art Historian and Dealer

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