George Joseph Demotte

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George Joseph Demotte
Born 1877
Died 1923
Cause of death shooting accident
Occupation art dealer
Organization Demotte Galleries
Children Lucien (died 1934)

George Joseph Demotte, alternatively Georges-Joseph Demotte (1877-1923) was a Belgian-born art dealer, the owner of galleries in Paris (27 rue de Berri) and New York (8 East 57th Street) specializing in the sale of medieval French art.

He became "infamous" among historians of Islamic art for his treatment of the highly important Great Mongol Shahnameh or "Demotte Shahnameh". This came into Demotte's hands about 1910; "he bought it from Shemavan Malayan, brother-in-law of the well-known dealer Hagop Kevorkian, who had brought it from Tehran".[1]

Demotte failed to raise the price he wanted for the whole manuscript from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other potential buyers. He then separated the miniatures and sold them, after various physical interventions to increase the sale value, and without properly recording the original form of the book. Pages were pulled apart to give two sides with miniatures, and to disguise this and the resulting damage, calligraphers were hired to add new text, often from the wrong part of the work, as Demotte did not expect his new clientele of wealthy collectors to be able to read Persian.[2] This has left the subject of some miniatures still uncertain, as the surrounding text does not match them.[3] Scholars have been very critical of the "infamous" Demotte,[4] and it irked many that the manuscript he treated so brutally carried his name, so the new name of "Great Mongol Shahnameh" was promoted, and has generally won acceptance.

His portrait was painted by Henri Matisse in 1918.

In 1923 he sued his former New York agent, Jean Vigoroux, in the French courts for embezzlement,[5] while simultaneously suing Sir Joseph Duveen for slander in the American courts, for having declared a medieval statuette that Demotte had sold a fake.[6] Neither suit had been settled when Demotte died, accidentally shot by a friend and fellow art-dealer, Otto Wegener, while returning from a boar-hunting trip.[7] Wegener was cleared of homicide by the French courts, but ordered to pay compensation to Demotte's family.[8]

His galleries, estimated at the time of his death to be worth $2,000,000, passed to his seventeen-year-old son Lucien Demotte (died 1934).[9]


  1. ^ Iranica
  2. ^ Iranica; Yael Rice, "Preservation: Essay", for the exhibition Iranica at Bryn Mawr College, 2005.
  3. ^ "Nushirvan Eating Food Brought by the Sons of Mahbud", Folio from a Shahnama (Book of Kings), Metropolitan Museum of Art; see commentary
  4. ^ Grove, 216
  5. ^ Vigoroux vs. Demotte, Time, Jul. 23, 1923. Accessed 9 June 2010.
  6. ^ Meryle Secrest, Duveen: A Life in Art (University of Chicago Press, 2005), p. 208.
  7. ^ "Demotte Killed in Gun Accident; International Art Dealer Shot Dead While on Hunting Expedition in France", The New York Times, Sept. 5, 1923. Accessed 9 June 2010.
  8. ^ Compensation, Time, Dec. 31, 1923. Accessed 9 June 2010.
  9. ^ Demotte Fils, Time, Dec. 17, 1923. Accessed 9 June 2010.


  • "Grove", The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, Volume 3, Editors: Jonathan Bloom, Sheila S. Blair, 2009, Oxford University Press, ISBN 019530991X, 9780195309911
  • "Iranica", "Demotte ŠĀH-NĀMA", Encyclopædia Iranica, online, accessed 28 August 2016

Further reading[edit]

Christine Vivet-Peclet, "Les sculptures du Louvre acquises auprès de Georges-Joseph Demotte : de la polémique à la réhabilitation ?", La revue des musées de France. Revue du Louvre, 3 (2013), pp. 57–70.