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OPINION

The art and artifice of Hunter Biden

The president’s son shows his colors.

Elizabeth Weinberg/The New York Times; adobe stock;globe staff photo illustration/SHOTPRIME STUDIO - stock.adobe.c

How heartless a vocation art can be. Now recognized as one of history’s most influential artists, Vincent van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime. Deft Delft Dutchman Johannes Vermeer enjoyed a modest reputation during his earthly years, only to slip into nearly two centuries of obscurity once he shuffled off this mortal coil. Although he painted pieces of unrivaled psychological perception, after a lifetime of wandering in search of work, Renaissance painter Lorenzo Lotto lamented that “art did not earn me what I spent.”

Yes, it’s a cruel art world out there. So it comes as a relief that the goddess Athena has smiled beatifically on one newly minted artist on the make. Not for Hunter Biden, long years of rejection or the slings and arrows of an, um, unperceptive audience.

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Hunter, of course, has always sensed he was meant for great things. No wonder, then, that he has blanched at the grim work-a-day world the way the new-to-the-harness hauler does to the against-the-current toil in Ilya Repin’sBarge Haulers on the Volga.” Hunter knew from the start where he wanted to be: Atop the barge and borne along by the not-so-subtle currents of opportunity.

Art, he has declared, will be his new career. And, mirabile dictu, raffish SoHo art dealer Georges Bergès is there to help! Help to such a degree that Hunter’s work will go for at least $75,000 per piece, with some carrying a price tag of as much as $500,000. That is to say, sums usually commanded by artists of widely recognized talent and accomplishment. For those who want to buy art that will be influential, at least for a quadrennium, think of the thrill of owning a Biden!

Mind you, under a trompe l’oeil arrangement brokered by the White House, neither Hunter nor his father the president will know who has purchased the Biden in question. Until, that is, this buyer or that boasts about it or hangs it in his parlor, there to attract the eyes of the chattering class. But then, would-be ethical arrangements can’t be expected to be airtight for eternity. Or in Washington, even a week.

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For artists who have won their followings and much more modest prices through years of hard work, the reaction to all this may be similar to that which Edvard Munch depicted in his most famous painting. But they should look on the bright side: If Hunter can command prices like those for work that a talented eighth-grader might spin out with a spirograph, there’s hope for aspiring artists everywhere. And let’s not give Hunter’s creations short shrift. In several of his pieces, he has achieved a rare combination of color and form one would otherwise happen upon only if a basket of ripe tomatoes and plump grapes (and maybe a half-gallon bottle of beautifully blue Gatorade Frost Glacier Freeze), dislodged from a high balcony by a strong wind or clumsy party-goer, landed in front of you on the sidewalk.

Great things, and not just great payouts, may yet lie ahead. Why, Hunter could follow in the footsteps of self-taught English artist William Hogarth, of whom a New York Times critic wrote: “While powdered young English lords on the Grand Tour gazed adoringly on classical antiquities in Italy, Hogarth stayed at home and memorialized politicians, merchants, thieves, prostitutes and men on the make.” Who better than Hunter to pick up Hogarth’s brush?

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Further, as far as family-legacy-surfing goes, Hunter’s no worse than Mariel Hemingway, granddaughter of the famous author. For the better part of $25,000, she’ll write a foreword for your self-published book and do a 30-second promotional video to boot. As she explained to Air Mail’s Clementine Ford, “You put a Hemingway on the cover of your book, at least somebody’s going to pay attention.”

Mind you, the praise-who-pays line of critical endeavor can create some pangs of guilt. If he knew what she was doing, Grandpa Ernest “would probably come up through the grave and slap me in the face or something,” Hemingway said.

Fortunately for him and for his art, if not art in general, Hunter Biden has no such worries about a rebuke from a disapproving relative.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.