One of the most important ways in which art continues to exist is simply because there are art collectors for the best and most stunning pieces worldwide. For the artist, it’s enough to create, but to society as a whole, being able to gather pieces into a comprehensive collection is essential for allowing the artist to have the renown and fame that they deserve. For art forms all over the world to flourish, there need to be people who perceive the value of pieces and set them up to be displayed for everyone to enjoy. In this article, we’re going to look at some of the most influential and famous art collectors of all time and look at their contributions to the ongoing history of art.
The Medici Family – The Renaissance art collectors
Also known as the House of Medici, this prominent Italian family operated in the 13th century has found significant success in mercantilism. The family essentially was the most prominent, powerful force in making Florence the birthplace of the Renaissance. Also, their continued patronage of the arts was incredibly successful.
In addition to providing Florence with fame and power, the art collectors were responsible for significant artistic contributions. For instance, the family commissioned Brunelleschi for the reconstruction of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, had dealings with Donatello and Fra Angelico, and who were significant patrons to two of the most famous artists of all time: Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
Without this famous family, the Sistine Chapel would not have been created. The Uffizi Gallery would not exist, and even the works of Galileo might not have been as prominent.
Catherine the Great – one of the best known Russian art collectors
As the longest ruling female monarch of Russia, lasting from 1762 until she passed in 1796, Catherine the Great not only had a monumental effect on the revitalization of Russia but on the history of Art and Culture. A significant force in modernizing Russia in a variety of ways, the significance of Catherine on Russia as a whole is inestimable.
When it comes to the art collectors, Catherine the Great enjoyed a significant reputation as a respected patron. She would be immortalized in her role of establishing The Hermitage Museum, which began as Catherine’s personal art collections. She herself wrote many pieces of literature, including comedies, fiction, and memoirs and would go on to patronize great writers like Voltaire and Diderot.
John Soane – The British art collections
Sir John Soane was the son of a bricklayer who would become a professor of architecture at the Royal Academy in Britain. He worked on a variety of buildings, such as the old Bank of England, the Dulwich Picture Gallery and what he would be most famous for: Sir John Soane’s Museum. This building, which is free to the public, houses many drawings and models of Soane’s work, as well as the valuable art collections that he built during his lifetime.
The gallery is home to many exquisite pieces of art, including the alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I and various other ancient pieces from Roman and Greek culture. There are medieval objects including various architectural fragments (from the Old Palace of Westminster) and even examples of 18th-century Chinese ceramics. These art collections represent a vast and valuable example of various cultures’ art.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney – The American Art Collections
An American Sculptor and one of the famous art collectors, Gertrude Whitney established the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1931 and was one of the wealthy daughters of the Vanderbilt family. In addition to her art patronage, Whitney also dedicated much time and effort into various WW1 relief efforts, such as establishing and maintaining a fully operational hospital in Juilly, France. She would create drawings of wounded soldiers who attended the hospital, which would then be the base for her memorials she would go on to create.
Whitney’s artistic aspirations and patronage were both essential to her lasting history, and she was successful in both her artistic production and her collection efforts. She had some one-woman shows during her extended career and even established the museum to showcase the art of women all over America.
The Cone Sisters – Modern French art collection
Claribel and Etta Cone, in the very early 20th century, took it upon themselves to establish and collect one of the finest galleries of modern French art in the US. Born from German-Jewish immigrant parents, the art collectors began purchasing art in 1898 when Etta bought some art to decorate the family home. Soon after, her initial purchase of five paintings by Theodore Robinson set the foundations for a collection that would impress the world.
Both sisters maintained and contributed greatly to the artistic scene of the early 20th century. Etta was a fan of more traditional artists such as Picasso and Matisse and made acquisitions of their early pieces. Claribel preferred more avant-garde works such as Cezanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen From the Bibemus Quarry. After the death of Claribel, her sister expanded her interests and became more adventurous in her choices.
Born into the already famous and wealthy Guggenheim family of New York, Peggy was a socialite in the early 20th century. She would go on to become one of the famous art collectors between 1938 and 1946. Continually exhibiting the collection in America, she would go on to settle in Venice in 1949 and establish a permanent location for her collection there for the rest of her life. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection remains in the Grand Canal of Venice to this day and is one of the most visited attractions in the city.
As a prominent voice for American artists in Europe, Peggy Guggenheim’s influence on the acquisition of American modern art in Venice was very powerful. Her collection remains one of the most important museums in Italy. Its pieces of early 20th-century art range from cubist and surrealist works to abstract expressionistic works and beyond.
Doris Duke – Islamic Art collector
A prominent heiress of the Duke tobacco fortune, Doris Duke was many things, among them being one of the prominent art collectors of her time. She eventually established a gallery of Islamic art. The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art is still operating the home she called Shangri La, an Islamic-style mansion she had built just outside Honolulu.
The home itself contains many beautiful examples of art from various countries in the Middle East, from Iran, Morrocco, and Turkey, to even representing the Islamic art found in Spain.
Doris Duke had a taste for homes and bought many of them, usually purposed to house the various pieces of art and furniture she would find on her travels. One of her more extravagant expenses was a custom Boeing 737 that she used to purchase art from around the world. The plane includes a bedroom decorated to resemble a room that could be found in a real home.
Andy Hall – Contemporary art foundation
Andrew Hall is a hedge fund manager for Astenbeck Capital, and with his wife, Christine, they are prominent art collectors. After creating the Hall Art Foundation in 2007 to showcase his collection with the public, the Halls have collaborated with art installations around the world to organize exhibitions. With over 5000 works by hundreds of artists worldwide, the foundation represents a monumental achievement in advancing the careers of many contemporary artists as well as spreading the word of masterpieces from around the world.
In addition to the exhibitions themselves, the Foundation has also published or co-published around a dozen books relating to the various exhibitions that the foundation has hosted, furthering the aims of the artists that come through its doors.
Sheikha Mayassa Al-Thani
As the sister of Qatari ruler Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Sheikha Mayassa Al-Thani has been recognized as one of the most influential art collectors by ArtReview’s Power 100. She is on the Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women and is the chairperson of Qatar Museums.
She has purchased the most expensive painting in the world: Paul Gauguin’s When Will You Marry? in 2015. She also bought many other extremely expensive works. She operates with an astounding estimated budged of $1bn yearly, and she has even given a TED talk about the importance of the social impact of art.
Her aim is to give the country of Qatar a national identity by establishing a rich and varied collection. There are very few people in the world with her reach and influence, and her impact on the art world has changed since she entered it.
Steven Cohen – Art collection diversity
As one of the richest men in the world, (Forbes claims him at the 72nd richest), Steven Cohen is a successful investor and hedge fund manager. The philanthropist is among the world famous art collectors. After beginning his collection in 2000, he has been appearing on Art News’s Top 10 list for biggest spenders of art around the world. In 2015, his collection has been estimated at around $1bn.
Today, Cohen is building a private museum to house his acquisitions – his personal collection comprising famous artists from a variety of styles and eras, including de Koons, Munch, Picasso, and Warhol. He currently safeguards the original Le Reve as well as many other timeless masterpieces.