Bruce Chatwin is best known for his Patagonia adventures, but he was equally excited about his art-world exploits.
At the age of 20, Bruce Chatwin by Sotheby’s, where he quickly rose to a specialist in the departments of antiquities and impressionist art.
Enigmatic to the core, Patagonia’s late Bruce Chatwin was at his best on the hunt for Brontosaurus bones.
He would later be accused of making up many of the interviews and experiences in his famous travel book In Patagonia, but by that time Chatwin had developed himself as a charismatic author and went on to write many books and novels of adventure.
Werner Herzog adapted one of those novels, the Viceroy of Ouidah, and Chatwin and Herzog became friends.
In Herzog’s new film, Nomad: Herzog ruminates on their friendship in Bruce Chatwin’s footsteps and re-enacts some of the trips Chatwin took in what the director calls “an erratic quest” to get to the heart of who the man was.
Without his connection to the arts, no story about Chatwin is complete.
He was an art specialist at Sotheby’s before he became a travel writer and novelist.
Chatwin, according to his biographer Nicholas Shakespeare, began as a lowly porter in 1958 before moving as a catalogue into the departments of antiquities and impressionist art. He created an eye for spotting forgeries there, moving up the ranks quickly, becoming an expert in both departments.
Chatwin would later become an auction house director, though still only at a junior level.
Chatwin further ranked this lower position, and he became embittered with the shadier dealings of the auction house, including the controversial deaccession of archaeological objects from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England. The then-26-year-old Chatwin resigned in June 1966, three months after he became director.
He would continue to be a writer on art and architecture at the Sunday Times Magazine, where he would write articles on Russian art collectors, art theorist André Malraux, and Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray.
The latter would become important in the life of Chatwin; he noticed a map of Patagonia during his interview with Gray and told her that he always wanted to travel there.“So have I,” she replied, “Go there for me.”
In the mid-80s, Chatwin was diagnosed with HIV. Shakespeare writes that Chatwin said he may have contracted it from Wagstaffbut continued to write.
In 1989, he passed away. One of his last works was the Utz novel about a character named Kaspar Utz, a Meissen porcelain collector; the character was based on Czech art collector Konrad Just.
In Nomad: In Bruce Chatwin’s footsteps, Herzog travels to Patagonia and Australia “where Chatwin would embrace Aboriginal communities” to trace back the steps of his friend.
There’s plenty of drama but unfortunately, the movie doesn’t paint a complete picture of the wild career of the man. It’s a shame: Chatwin’s adventures within the art world were no less fascinating.


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