Art Patronage is born from the idea that some extremely talented individuals may be financially poor or have a bohemian lifestyle, an archetype image which was established throughout the ages. Becoming a renowned artist under these conditions was, however, possible thanks to a so called patron – a person able to lend money and support to the artist on his journey.
It is true that some artworks would not exist today or would not survive without some Art Patrons. Even art movements, crucial to art history and evolution, were supported and made socially acceptable by some powerful figures interested in them.
The Impressionist movement is a perfect example of this. Around the 1870s it fought to be accepted before it was appreciated and promoted by the entrepreneur and art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. He was the one who spotted the potential of artists such as Monet, Degas or Renoir and dedicated his life to rise the social admiration of their works.
Art Patrons are, undoubtfully, essential because they give opportunities to gifted people with notable work who wouldn’t succeed otherwise. They are often art collectors, enthusiasts or even professionals, with deep knowledge and connections in the field. Behind great artists, supporting and encouraging them, Art Patrons truly shaped history and continue to do it nowadays, under the name of Galleries, Museums, Foundations and Associations.
Patronage is, nowadays, a new way some art enthusiasts, from wealthy individuals to foundations, created to establish a relationship with creators, the makers of art. Not only they collect and/or consume art, but they are also bringing back a model from the Renaissance, when royal houses provided room, board, materials and important professional connections to talented artists. Young artists with extreme potential and talent started as apprentices to master artists, hired by wealthy families or royal houses.
Patrons are, today, less political motivated and they generally don’t house artists in their magnificent domains or command them to paint frescoes. Nevertheless, they are giving creators a pathway to success and economic stability, providing living expenses and supplies.
Carolina García Jayaram chief president of the National YoungArts Foundation says that nowadays: “donors understand how important it is to support artists — not just the art.”
Some Relevant Art Patrons in Art’s History:
John Soane (1753-1837)
Sir John Soane’s Museum is London’s best-kept secret, the legend says. However, it is not that hard to find if you are a true art lover. Soane, son of a bricklayer, was an architect. His home was at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but it was no ordinary house. It was a sanctuary of wonder, a special place where he displayed his precious collection of art and antiquities. It was converted into a museum in 1833, by act of parliament, requiring that its interiors be kept as at the time of his death. His collection includes Greek, Roman and medieval objects, paintings by Canaletto, Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds, and architectural drawings. Its most memorable exhibition piece, however, is the vast alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I of Egypt.
Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922)
Impressionism owes much of its worldwide success to the efforts of Paul Durand-Ruel, the dealer who discovered Degas, Monet, Pissarro and Renoir, buying their work at a time when it was ridiculed by the art conventions. “Without him,” Monet said, “we wouldn’t have survived.” It wasn’t only Durand-Ruel’s devotion that mattered, his business strategies were extraordinary too. He turned a simple family business into a global project, organizing exhibitions of “his” artists in London and New York, as well as Paris. New York was key because, as he once commented, the Americans were open-minded, and loved to buy.
John Ruskin (1819-1900)
He is also remembered as an art patron. Known as a social reformer, impressive critic and educator of art history in Oxford, he profoundly inspired the Arts and Crafts movement. Ruskin was a loyal promoter and friend of artist William Turner, whose works were a part of his family’s art collection. Today, he is considered one of Turner’s most important sponsors as well as a patron of the pre-Raphaelites, a true prophet in his time. His watercolors are breathtaking and he even created a museum for the working men of Sheffield.
Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979)
Throughout her life, this lady assembled an extensive and impressive art collection, which can still be admired and attracts thousands of visitors to its location in Venice. Peggy was known for her active social life and emotional involvement with artists such as Max Ernst, whom she also assisted with his immigration to the United States, helping him to ship artworks that were considered as “degenerated” in Nazi Germany.
When she closed her New York gallery in 1947 to move to her beloved Europe, critic Clement Greenberg wrote: “Her departure is in my opinion a serious loss to living American art… She gave more first showings to more serious new artists than anyone else in the country.” Before leaving, she had already discovered Mark Rothko, Joseph Cornell, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.
François Pinault (b. 1936)
Pinault is a French businessman best recognized for his rivalry with Bernard Arnault of the luxury goods group LVMH, the two fought a mediatic battle over Gucci. His business interest includes Château Latour and Christie’s, the auction house, though his company is now run by his son, François-Henri.
However, Pinault also owns one of the world’s biggest collections of contemporary art, which he exhibits at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, and at the Punta della Dogana, on the other side of the Grand Canal. His first significant acquisition was a Mondrian in the early 80s, but the collection is now wide and includes works by Willem de Kooning, Picasso, Agnes Martin, Richard Serra and Damien Hirst.
Dorothy and Herb Vogel (b. 1935; 1922-2012)
Both of them worked as civil servants in New York while quietly gathering one of the most important post-60s art collections in the US. They did this by being prudent and by searching for talented unknown artists devotedly. The art they collected was chosen purely according to their taste and whether they could get it home on the subway. The collection, so vast some of it had to be stored under their bed, included artpieces by Richard Tuttle and Roy Lichtenstein. In 1992, they donated it all to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the city where they spent their honeymoon.
Anthony d’Offay (b. 1940)
D’Offay is a British dealer whose London gallery exhibited works by, among many talented others, Gilbert & George and Joseph Beuys. After closing it in 2001, D’Offay focused on building his private collection, and in 2008 donated it to the National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Including 1.500 works by 38 artists, the collection is now known as Artist Rooms.
Each “room” represents the work of a single artist (containing Gerhard Richter, Francesca Woodman and Ron Mueck, for example). There were already 132 Artist Rooms exhibitions across the UK.
Charles Saatchi (b. 1943)
Saatchi is probably the most controversial figure in British contemporary art. He started collecting art pieces in 1969, long before he achieved fame as an advertising man. His first love was minimalism, and by the mid-80s, he had his own gallery space in St John’s Wood, London, and a collection that included work by Donald Judd, Anselm Kiefer and Julian Schnabel.
Nevertheless, Saatchi will always be best known for his connection with the Young British Artists of whom he was a key patron: Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Gavin Turk. He later donated his gallery, and 200 works of art to the British public.
Sheikha Al Mayassa Al-Thani (b. 1983)
Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, sister of the emir of Qatar, is chair of Qatar Museums. Her acquisitions included Gauguin’s When Will You Marry?, Cezanne’s The Card Players and the 1930s Cartier necklace that formed the centrepiece of the V&A’s 2013 exhibition Pearls.
The Rubell family
Miami is known as the hoster as one of the most incredible art showcases in the world: Art Miami. There, several art lovers and philanthropes flourish. This family is a contemporary example of how an artist path can be influenced by the recognition of private collectors. The collectors are part of the “Miami Model”, which implies that in Miami private collections are largely considered as public institution, with an educational agenda. Shortly after Donald and Mera Rubell married, they put aside money every week to buy works from young and upcoming artists. Today, their collection includes Keith Haring, Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman. Over the years, even though the Rubells still collect art due to their passion for it, they started to understand the power they have in hands, being capable of changing an artist’s future.
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