Not all art masterworks are exhibited in the great museums of the world. Some belong to private art collectors, one of the most expensive and exclusive “hobbies” reserved only for billionaires.
Today's billionaires are no different from the grand dukes and popes of the Renaissance or the merchants of 17th century Amsterdam. They buy art to appreciate it, to learn from it and to profit from it, financially, culturally and socially. The end result of many a great collection is often the creation of a museum, or wing of a museum, which can benefit society for generations. Many of the world's great museums, from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, began as a private collection.
Listed below are some of todays most enthusiastic and influential art collectors. Their collections are private museums that only a select few are privileged to see!
WILDENSTEIN COLLECTION: Thought to be the best private art collection in the world, the Wildenstein collection still keeps its aura of mystery. Dealers and collectors for many decades, the Wildenstein family has amassed a distinguished art collection, valued by several sources at $10 billion. It is said that this “Eldorado of the Arts” could exhibit several masterpieces by some of the most important artists from the 14th to the 20th centuries, such as Van Gogh, Renoir, Gauguin, Cézanne, Monet, a handful of Rembrandts, several Rubens, Caravaggio, El Greco, Fragonard, a recently rediscovered “Madonna and child with saints and the seven virtues” by Giotto di Bondone, or even a work by Vermeer still unknown by the critics.
STEVE COHEN: Runs SAC Capital, the hedge fund, and is his own biggest client, having made over $700 million in the last couple of years. The publicity-shy Cohen began collecting five years ago, moving quickly from Manet and Monet into Contemporary. He likes "trophy" art, signature works by famous artists. He purchased a Pollock "drip" painting from David Geffen for $52 million, two fabulous canvases by Willem de Kooning ( "Police Gazette” and “Woman III”, for $64.5 million and 137.5 million respectively) and spent $8 million on Damien Hirst's embalmed shark, a piece that the artist had bought back from Charles Saatchi. Cohen doesn't mind overpaying for what he wants. But he did drop out of the bidding for Picasso's "Boy with a Pipe" when it reached $80 million. It went to Steve Wynn.
STEVE WYNN: Wynn has been one of the main names in the art world for more than 10 years, with his spectacular acquisitions for his even more spectacular private gallery at the Bellagio Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas. Highlights from his collection include works by old masters (an early self-portrait by Rembrandt or the famous “La Donna Della Salute and San Giorgio” by Joseph Mallord William Turner) and masterworks by impressionist and modern masters such as van Gogh, Monet and Picasso. In recent years he has sold two works by Gauguin and van Gogh to Steve Cohen, in addition to the famous “elbow incident”, when he accidentally damaged Picasso's “La Rêvé” (“The Dream”) when the painting was about to be sold to Mr. Cohen for $137 million.
NIARCHOS FAMILY: The heirs of the shipping magnate, Stavros Niarchos, own a remarkable collection of Impressionist and Modern Art, especially his son Phillipe Niarchos. Among the works in the collection we can find three masterworks by Vincent van Gogh ("Self-portrait with a bandaged ear”, “Portrait of Pere Tanguy” and “The house of Pére Pilon”), as well as arguably the most important work by Paul Gauguin in private hands (“ Riders on the beach”) and the self-portrait “Yo, Picasso”, bought in 1989 for almost $48 million. In recent years Phillipe has completed his collection with works by contemporary artists, like Andy Warhol's “Shot Red Marilyn” or a self-portrait by de Jean Michel Basquiat.
DUKE OF SUTHERLAND: The Duke of Sutherland's collection is arguably the best collection of old master paintings still in private hands. In 2003 the new Duke sold Titian's "Venus Anadyomene” to the National Gallery of Scotland, but he is still the owner of two other masterpieces by Titian, “ Diana and Callisto” and “Diana and Actaeon”, as well as a masterful 1657 self-portrait by Rembrandt, the “Bridgewater Madonna” by Raphael and the “Sacraments” series by French master Nicolas Poussin.
CASA DE ALBA: The impressive collection of the Casa de Alba (Alba House) in the Palace of Lira, Madrid, now property of Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, 18th Duchess of Alba, includes works by Fra Angelico (“Virgin of the grenade”), Titian (“The last supper”), Velázquez (“The infant Margarita”), El Greco, Veronese, Correggio, Rubens, a landscape by Rembrandt, and several Goyas, most notably the portrait of the Duchess of Alba painted in 1795. In recent years, the duchess has also purchased works by modern masters such as Picasso and Chagall.
ELI BROAD: Eli Broad built two companies (KB Homes and Sun America) and started the Broad Art Foundation in Santa Monica in 1984. A trustee of New York's MOMA and the Los Angeles County Art Museum, he has loaned work to at least 18 institutions this year alone. The Broad Art Foundation manages a collection that can be compared with the best museums of contemporary Art, with nearly 2000 works by artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichstentein or Edward Ruscha, in addition to an important collection of photography.
DAVID GEFFEN: The Brooklyn-born billionaire has had four careers in entertainment, first starting out as an agent with William Morris before starting Asylum Records in 1971. He worked at Warner Brothers Pictures before returning to the music scene when he started Geffen Records in 1980. Along the way he was a producer of the hit musical Cats. Today he is a principal in the movie studio, DreamWorks. He has become a major collector of high end Modern and Contemporary art and has endowed a Los Angeles museum, Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Geffen is the owner of several masterpieces by the best artists of the second half of the 20th century, despite having sold two of his most coveted masterpieces (Jackson Pollock's “Number 5” and Willem de Kooning's “Woman III”) for $277 million, making them the two most expensive paintings ever sold. He has claimed his collecting is slowing down.
FRANÇOIS PINAULT: A Breton, who built an inherited lumber business into a multi-billion luxury goods empire, began collecting Impressionist and Modern art thirty-five years ago and segued into high end Contemporary art in the 1980s. His collection of almost 2,500 works of modern and contemporary art is extraordinary. Since 2006, a selection of 200 works from his outstanding collection, featuring works by Mark Rothko, Lucio Fontana, Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, among others, is exhibited in the Palazzo Grassi in Venice. He is building an £85 (approximately $163 million) museum on Seguin Island, close to Paris, but has been close-mouthed about what he will be retaining for his private collection. Pinault bought Christie's in 1999 for £721 million.
CHARLES SAATCHI: Saatchi is a dealer, collector and guru of the contemporary art world. For the last two decades Saatchi has worked with some of the most famous artists of the day - Damien Hirst among them - while creating an amazing collection of contemporary art. While Saatchi's collection is not as rich in works by the masters of the 60s and 70s as those owned by Eli Broad or David Geffen, for example, it is surely full of “future” masterpieces by the truly contemporary art movement. Definitively not the best private collection of today, it is perhaps the best collection of tomorrow.
PAUL ALLEN: Co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates, he left in 1983 to fight Hodgkin's disease. He is a quirky collector who has amassed science fiction artifacts and Jimmy Hendrix memorabilia, housed in a Frank Gehry museum in Seattle. He has been aided by David Nash, formerly the head of Impressionism at Sotheby's and now a dealer, to build an art collection that includes pieces by Cezanne, Manet and Gauguin.
HENRY KRAVIS: Henry Kravis, the leveraged buy-out wizard most famous for his $25 billion buyout of RJR Nabisco in 1989, started levered buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in 1976. He collects Monet, Renoir, Sargent and other masters. He donated $10 million to New York's Metropolitan Museum and has his name on a wing. He purchased Renoir's "The Reader" for $14.3 million in 1989 and sold it for $13.2 million in 2001.
LEONARD AND RONALD LAUDER: Leonard runs the cosmetics empire and has an extraordinary Cubist collection - he spent $60 million on a Cezanne - and is an activist chairman of the board at the Whitney Museum. Ronald is chairman of the Museum of Modern Art, progenitor of Manhattan's Neue Galerie, which showcases German and Austrian Modernism, and a force working towards the restitution of Nazi-looted art. He has spent an estimated $450 million on collecting art.
SAMUEL IRVING NEWHOUSE JR: The chairman of Condé Nast is a sharp-eyed collector of mostly Modern and Contemporary art. He was sitting beside Larry Gagosian, his dealer, when he bought Jasper Johns' "False Start" for $17 million in 1988, thereby taking the 80s art boom to a new level and significantly increased the values of the Johns pieces he already owned. He later sold it to David Geffen. In 1998 he sold a small Warhol, "Marilyn", to Steve Wynn after outbidding him on the "Orange Marilyn" for which he paid $17 million.
KENNETH THOMSON: The richest man in Canada, Thomson is a press lord in both senses of the word. Firstly, he is the former chairman of his family's global media empire, The Thomson Corporation, and secondly, he is the second Lord Thomson of Fleet, a title he inherited from his father. He collects Old Masters, Constables and Turners. In July 2002 he bought Rubens' "Massacre of the Innocents" for $77 million, beating out the Getty Museum, and setting the record for an Old Master. He has donated $200 million worth of art to the Ontario Art Gallery.