Makers and Believers

On Art History’s Most Famous Patrons

The idea of the artist as a gifted, but financially poor individual with a bohemian lifestyle, fully came into place in the twentieth century. As fascinating and seemingly independent this way of life appeared to be, becoming a recognized artist often involved a dependency on a so called patron – a person lending money and support.

And indeed, some artworks would have not come into existence or would not have survived without art patronage. Even entire art movements, that today seem so fundamental to art history, were first made socially acceptable by its supporting benefactors. A surprising but famous example is the Impressionist movement, which around the 1870s struggled to be accepted before it was recognized and promoted by entrepreneur and art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. Today, The National Gallery in London is dedicating an entire show to the man, who spotted the potential of artists such as Monet, Degas or Renoir and dedicated his life to creating a wider social appreciation for their works. On this account, the show is entitled ‘Inventing Impressionism’, displaying 85 works from the movement, with all but one being tied to Durand-Ruel’s endeavors.

In a recently published article on The Guardian’s website, author Rachel Cook delves deeper into the subject and role of the art patron and collector and highlights how 10 individuals from different decades have shaped and are in the midst of shaping art history.

One of the grand dames in this field was certainly Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979). Throughout her life, she built up an extensive and impressive art collection, which is still publically accessible and attracts thousands of visitors to its location in Venice. Peggy Guggenheim 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 Stated, helping him to ship artworks that were considered as “degenerated” in Nazi Germany.

Also John Ruskin (1819-1900) is 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 staunch advocate 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 benefactors as well as a patron of the pre- Raphaelites.

The Rubell family is a contemporary example of how an artist trajectory can be influenced by the recognition of private collectors. The collectors are part of the ‘Miami Model’, implying 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 the Rubells have become fully aware of the fact that their market power can influence an artist’s career – even if they collect solely out of passion.

In her article, Rachel Cook picks up on further examples ranging from John Soane (1753-1837) to Charles Saatchi (b. 1943), giving an historical overview of the special connection between artists and their patrons that appears to be somewhat timeless.

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