Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979)
Peggy Guggenheim had a wild life. One of her husbands was Max Ernst, another used to make her stand naked in front of an open window while he chucked whisky at her. But she was also, in the art world, a force to be taken seriously. When she closed her New York gallery in 1947 ahead of a 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.” He wasn’t wrong. In New York, Peggy had shown, among many others, Mark Rothko, Joseph Cornell, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and, perhaps most important of all, her beloved “Jack the Dripper”, Jackson Pollock. Her own collection is still housed in her strange bungalow-like Venice palazzo.
Anthony d’Offay (b. 1940)
D’Offay is a British dealer whose London gallery exhibited works by, among others, Gilbert & George and Joseph Beuys. After closing it in 2001, D’Offay worked on building his collection, and in 2008 donated this to the National Galleries of Scotland and Tate (it was valued at in excess of £100m). Comprising 1,500 works by 38 artists, the collection is now known as Artist Rooms. Each “room” represents the work of a single artist (including Gerhard Richter, Francesca Woodman and Ron Mueck), and they tour constantly. To date, there have been 132 Artist Rooms exhibitions across the UK. Still, best not to think of D’Offay as a saint. He was paid for his donation (it cost the institutions £26m), and he has been known to fall out with artists. Grayson Perry once exhibited two large black pottery penises entitled Portrait of Anthony d’Offay.
The Rubell Family
Miami has almost as many flashy art collectors as it does beach bars, for which reason it’s now host to one of the biggest art fairs in the world (Art Miami, a sister to Art Basel). But the city’s art-loving philanthropists have also pioneered the “Miami model”, whereby private collectors create a new kind of public institution in which both to exhibit the work to its best advantage, and to provide educational facilities. Chief among the pioneers were the Rubells, who began acquiring work in 1964 in New York shortly after Donald and Mera Rubell were married (Mera was a teacher; Don, who was then an obstetrician, is the brother of Steve Rubell, who founded New York nightclub Studio 54; the couple put aside money every week and could only afford “unknowns”). Since 1993, the Rubell Family Collection has been housed in a 45,000sq ft (4,180sq metres) repurposed Drug Enforcement Administration confiscated goods facility. It includes art by Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman and Andy Warhol.
Dorothy and Herb Vogel (b. 1935; 1922-2012)
Dorothy and Herb Vogel worked as civil servants in New York while quietly amassing one of the most important post-60s art collections in the US. They did this by living frugally and by pursuing unknown artists doggedly. Dorothy’s salary as a librarian was spent on food and rent, and Herb’s US Postal Service sorting clerk’s salary was devoted entirely to art, which they chose purely according to 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 work by Richard Tuttle and Roy Lichtenstein, though in 1992, they donated it all to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the city where they honeymooned.
John Soane (1753-1837)
The cliche goes that Sir John Soane’s Museum is London’s best-kept secret. But it’s not hard to find, and its fans are legion. Soane, son of a bricklayer, was an architect; 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields was the house he designed as his home and a place to display his collection of art and antiquities (he established it as a museum in 1833, by act of parliament, requiring that its interiors be kept as at the time of his death). It includes Greek, Roman and medieval objects, paintings by Canaletto, Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds, and architectural drawings. Its most memorable exhibit, however, is the vast alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I of Egypt. At the party Soane threw to celebrate its arrival in 1825 were Coleridge, Turner and the prime minister, the Earl of Liverpool.
John Ruskin (1819-1900)
Forget the spiteful, reductive portraits of him in Emma Thompson’s Effie Gray and Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner. John Ruskin was a prophet in his time: a patron of the pre-Raphaelites and Turner; a brilliant critic, perhaps the best this country has ever known; a fine watercolourist; a social reformer whose Guild of St George would inspire the Arts and Crafts movement; and a passionate educator (in Sheffield, he established a museum for the working men of the city). Until he went mad in the bedroom of Brantwood, his house on Ullswater, his was a model life, passionate and full: a life of thinking and looking and sharing the fruits of all this plainly, with as many of his fellow human beings as possible.
Charles Saatchi (b.1943)
The most divisive figure in British contemporary art, Saatchi began collecting in 1969, long before he found 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. However, Saatchi will always be best known for his connection with the Young British Artists of whom he was a key patron (part of his collection made up the infamous 1997 Sensation show at the Royal Academy): Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Gavin Turk. In 2008, Saatchi moved his gallery to Chelsea; he later donated it, and 200 works of art, worth many millions of pounds, to the British public.
Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922)
Impressionism owes much of its global 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 establishment. “Without him,” said Monet, “we wouldn’t have survived.” It wasn’t only Durand-Ruel’s loyalty that mattered; his business strategies worked like magic, too. He turned a family business into a global concern, mounting 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. The National Gallery in London explores his influence in a show that opens on 4 March, and which will include 85 important works, all of which Durand-Ruel originally sold.
François Pinault (b. 1936)
Pinault is a French businessman best known for his rivalry with Bernard Arnault of the luxury goods group LVMH (the two men fought a well publicised battle over Gucci). His business interests include Château Latour and Christie’s, the auction house, though his company is now run by his son, François-Henri (married to Salma Hayek). But 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 (he fought off the Guggenheim Foundation to bag the former customs house). His first significant acquisition was a Mondrian in the early 80s, but the collection is now 2,500-strong, and includes works by Willem de Kooning, Picasso, Agnes Martin, Richard Serra and Damien Hirst.
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, a role that brings with it an annual acquisition budget estimated at £1bn. Her purchases are said to have included Gauguin’s When Will You Marry? (hers for £197m, making it the most expensive painting ever sold), Cezanne’s The Card Players (£158m) and the 1930s Cartier necklace that formed the centrepiece of the V&A’s 2013 exhibition Pearls (£2.1m, a sum that was more than four times its estimate price at auction). As spending sprees go, this puts owning more than one Kelly bag somewhat in the shade.
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