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Even during World War II, when he was forced into hiding from Nazi invaders, Berenson was advocating assimilation and intermarriage “to the utmost feasible extent” as solutions to Jewish persecution.If Berenson was self-invented he was not entirely self-made.

This tenuous status, even with no money or formal credentials attached, became the foundation of his fortunes. A generation or two earlier, wealthy Americans collected prints, works by contemporary Americans like Church and Bierstadt, and French academic art.Cohen does make some mostly inconsequential errors (delft is not a type of porcelain, for example).The thrust of her psychological narrative is strong and convincing, though, and her writing is elegantly balanced and very readable.His associates included George Santayana, the future philosopher, and Charles Loeser, from a wealthy Jewish family in Brooklyn, who became an important art collector and, later, a rival.Bernhard fell in with a literary crowd and became editor of the in his senior year.Rachel Cohen’s study, the first Berenson biography in a quarter century, tells all this and more with grace, economy, and deep sympathy for the numerous foibles of its subject.

Not surprisingly, Cohen leans heavily on earlier biographers, Meryle Secrest and Ernest Samuels in particular, who had sorted through the massive archives before her.

Later, Berenson initiates used the shorthand “BB.”).

Berenson himself did not remain Jewish for very long.

His second year at Harvard he converted to Christianity, baptized Episcopalian by the Boston Brahmin clergyman Phillips Brooks in Copley Square’s Trinity Church. Christian or not, Berenson was never particularly religious.

These changes seem to be part of his lifelong habit of dropping parts of his identity that had become inconvenient.

Exactly who these patrons were and what, if anything, they got in return for their support is somewhat of a mystery.