It’s a beautiful thing when a person’s home tells a story and draws you into their personal life. Anais Nin once said: “luxury is not a necessity to me, but beautiful and good things are”. What draws us to collecting objects? Is it a personal desire to acquire beauty or a more calculated move to invest wisely?
The hobby of collecting is a practise that has a very old cultural history dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. Egyptians collected books from all over the world, while the benefactors of Renaissance Florence, in the 14th and 15th centuries, were the first private collectors to destabilise the creative relationship that artists had with the Church and monarchs. The art market has a long and fascinating history that can be traced back to the origins of collecting in the cabinets of curiosities of the Italian Renaissance. There are still some spots in Florence that you can visit if you want to personally experience the Renaissance collecting habits, such as the Massimo Listri Foundation. The living room here is adorned with a prominent series of portraits and paintings from the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and a selection of artefacts from far and wide: an Egyptian table made from red porphyry rock, a narwhal tusk, a horn encrusted with precious stones, Chinese porcelain vases and more. The adjacent dining room is a captivating and intimate salon that was entirely painted in the 19th century. The dressing room is composed entirely of Japanese folding screens.
Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II was known to have collecting tastes that were eclectic to say the least. If you happened to be a guest at his opulent Prague Castle in the late 1500s, you might have been treated to a tour of his treasures, which included everything from magical stones, celestial globes and astrolabes, to painting masterpieces by the likes of Albercht Dürer and Titian. His collection was renowned throughout Europe, hailed as the era’s most comprehensive and wondrous ‘cabinet of curiosities’, which later provided the model for modern museums like the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum.
During the 18th century, and especially the 19th century, we see an expansion of the antiques trade that was supported by developments in the banking sector. One of the first antiques galleries, Maison Jansen, opened in Paris in 1880. With the emergence of Le Goût Rothschild [the Rothschild taste] and the incredible work done by interior designer Henri Samuel, a certain trend began developing among collectors.
The classical way of collecting objects from the same period began changing, with pieces from various earlier periods being placed together, side-by-side, with contemporary artworks and rare books. We can see examples of this later in the century, in the homes of the likes of Elsa Schiaparelli, Yves Saint Lauren and Pierre Bergé. Today one of the most impressive Parisian antiques gallery the Kuegel Gallery is situated in a Beaux Arts mansion on the banks of the river Seine.
All collecting is perhaps marked by curiosity or a desire to expand one’s social circle and find likeminded people with similar interests.
What is the best recipe for collecting? Is it to buy pieces that speak to you, so you’ll never be stuck with art that you don’t feel a personal attachment to? If you want to collect just so you can get a return on your investment, then you should be looking at leading artists whose artwork has had a consistent value over years of sales, confirmed at auctions. This has resulted in well-established artists enjoying high starting prices.
If possible, collecting should be fun and based on one’s instinct and aesthetics. In the words of Belgian art collector and dealer Axel Vervoordt: “I always wanted to live with things that I love and create spaces where I can invite friends and clients into a private world”.
There are a couple of art foundations located in stunning places that are open to the public and provide insight into the minds of private collectors.
The Château La Coste is located in beautiful Provence, and whilst visiting this spectacular wine domain one can admire such works as Louise Bourgeois’s Spider alongside works by Tracey Emin and Alexander Calder.
Another beautiful trip that also takes us to France is to the Fondation Carmignac, located on the island of Porquerolles off the coast of the French Riviera. Of course, we can only be in awe of these great collectors, but they can inspire us to start collecting something.
With a bit of courage, luck and good advice, a wise collector could have invested in artist George Condo, whose works were affordable 15 years ago. His Antipodal Reunion painting sold at Sotheby’s last year for a record 1.2 millions dollars. Impressive! Maybe you should visit your local market to see what’s available, or perhaps pop into a local gallery to view the works of emerging artists. What about a small porcelain collection? The possibilities are endless and can cater to any budget. So come on, start collecting!