While collecting has been part of human nature since our humble beginnings as hunters and gatherers, the modern collector does so for more intellectual reasons rather than out of necessity. When it comes to art collecting, those reasons may be financially or emotionally driven – or a combination of the two – but the true art collector is more interested in the aesthetic of the pieces he or she collects, and how those individual pieces combine to create a collection than someone who simply buys pieces of art.
An art collection is defined as an assembly of artworks by an individual or institution. Art collecting has existed as far back as Babylonia and Ancient Egypt, when treasures were collected for display within the royal palaces, temples and tombs. In fact, many of the collections in our art galleries and museums are a result of collections assembled by royalty and the wealthy.
Art collecting became popular in the West first in Greece during the Hellenistic Age, soon spreading to Rome as the Romans plundered Greek cities and brought the treasures home. Art took a backseat with the fall of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance, which saw art collecting develop into its modern form. Prominent collectors across Italy, France, Spain, England and Sweden, many of whom were royalty, high-level government officials and members of the church, assembled collections from antique sculpture to modern paintings.
It wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries that the royals and aristocracy began donating their private collections to the state, and the art museums of Europe were born. Many of today’s famous art galleries and museums are based on private collections, which the institutions have added to over time.
Although a large number of collections were transferred to public institutions, many works have remained in the private sector. Especially today when art can be so easily bought and sold across the world, collectors continue to build private collections, which some loan out to museums or galleries for exhibition in lieu of donation, while others keep under lock and key far from the public eye.
The impact of collectors on the art world over the last few centuries should not be underestimated. While artists can – and should – create what they are passionate about, it is often the collectors that determine what is desirable, and in turn, what is produced.
But what makes a true collection? After all, most of us buy art over the course of our lives, but these purchases hardly qualify as a collection. Art collections are purposeful, often focused by theme, period or artist, striving to offer a comprehensive look into a very specific window of the art world. In fact, the significance of the collection as a whole is just as important – if not more – than the individual artworks.
It could be argued that the process of creating an art collection is indeed its own art form, and art collecting has never been more accessible than it is today. Thanks to the internet, anyone with the desire – and the finances – to acquire it, has access to pieces from around the world. So if you’ve ever thought about trying your hand at collecting, now is the time!
Stay tuned for more blogs over the coming weeks as we take a look at some of the most famous art galleries, museums and famous collections, trends and artists to look out for, and information about how to build your own collection.