Art Collectors & Buyers
Greatest Dealers, Patrons of Fine Arts.

Pin it

Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1899)
Petit Palais, Musee des Beaux-Arts
de la Ville de Paris. By Paul Cezanne.
Vollard was an active dealer and
collector before and after WWI.

Greatest Art Collectors (c.2600 BCE - present)
Best Arts Collections


Collectors, Buyers, Dealers, Patrons
Early Art Collectors
Mannerist & Baroque
18th Century Collectors
19th & 20th Century Collectors: The Golden Era
Greatest Art Collections

Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906) Metropolitan Museum of Art.
By Pablo Picasso. A supporter of
many artists during the 1900s,
Stein was a resident of Paris and
a knowledgeable collector.

For a list of masterpieces
by famous artists, see:
Greatest Paintings Ever
For a list of the finest
sculptures by top sculptors,
see: Greatest Sculptures Ever.

For important dates in the
development of fine art and
other artforms, see:
History of Art.

Collectors, Buyers, Dealers, Patrons, Curators

Collectors of fine art may be involved in several different types of activity. They might be straightforward individual art buyers; or curators, looking to acquire specific works for their museum; or art dealers, negotiating purchases for their own stock of works, or a client's collection; or patrons, interested in commissioning a specific painting or sculpture for an institution's collection; or an institutional collector - like a Cardinal or industrialist - interested in buying works of art to decorate a building. They may even be art critics who want to acquire a work they admire. While their interests may vary, each of these groups are involved in the acquisition of artworks and may be described as collectors. See also: Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art.

Early Art Collectors

Ancient art attracted numerous collectors. Egyptian culture, notably during the thousand-year period spanning the eras of the Old Kingdom (2680­2258 BCE) and the Middle Kingdom (2134-1786 BCE), was renowned for its funerary art (paintings, sculptures, metalwork, jewellery), collected by Pharaohs for their tombs. Ancient Persian art was equally popular. Rulers of cities such as Susa and Persepolis were famous for commissioning a wealth of intricate ceramics. Later, during the Achaemenid Era (c.550-330 BCE) Darius I amassed a treasure trove of valuable objets d'art, artifacts and pottery, as can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and the British Museum, London. In the Mediterranean, Minoan culture blossomed on the island of Crete (c.2100-1500 BCE), where a series of palaces at Knossos, Phaestus and Akrotiri, housed fabulous collections of fresco painting, sculpture, ceramic art, stone carvings (especially seal stones), and precious metalwork. On the mainland of Ancient Greece, from roughly 500-27 CE, highly skilled Greek artists and craftsmen attracted great interest from Kings, Emperors and other wealthy rulers throughout the Mediterranean region, especially during the Hellenistic Period (c.323-27 BCE). Styles of Greek art had a huge influence on the collecting habits of Romans, Celts and others: in particular (from 100 BCE - 400 CE) the patrons of Christian art in Rome, and (from 400-1450) the patrons of Eastern Byzantine art in Constantinople.

For information about the world's
most highly priced works of art
and record auction prices, see:
Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings.

Art Questions
Methods, Genres, Forms.

Definitions, forms, styles, genres,
periods, see: Types of Art.

For a discussion, see:
Meaning/Definition of Art.


Medieval Art Collectors

The Dark Ages in Europe (c.400-800 CE) witnessed a continent-wide cultural collapse, as Romanization was replaced by Barbarianism. Amidst this, the only medieval art being amassed to any extent were the early Christian Hiberno-Saxon style illuminated manuscripts created and produced by artist-monks in the scriptoriums of monasteries in Ireland (Kildare, Durrow, Clonmacnois, Clonfert, Kells and Monasterboice), Scotland (Iona) and Northern England (Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumbria). (These illuminations, notably the abstract Celtic designs had a significant effect on later Islamic Art.) The "art collector" in this case was the Christian Church based in Rome, whose eastern counterpart - the Eastern Church in Constantinople - was also an active patron of religious art, including icons and other panel paintings, as well as dazzling mosaic art.

During the six centuries following the Dark Ages (c.800-1400), medieval European culture gradually revived, beginning with the artistic achievements at the court of Charlemagne I (742-814), Holy Roman Emperor and King of the Franks, at Aachen. Under patrons like Charlemagne, as well as Louis the Pious, Lothar I and II and Charles the Bald, a wide variety of artists produced a wealth of iluminated gospel texts, religious mural paintings and church architecture. This medieval Carolingian art was followed by Ottonian Art (c.900-1050), under the patronage of the Emperors Otto I, II and III.

By 1000 CE, the Church in Rome had sufficient confidence and contacts to initiate a new church building program in Western Europe, whose architectural designs became known as Romanesque art. Towards the end of the 12th-century, this was superceded by the hugely inspirational style known as Gothic art, which stimulated the growth of stone sculpture and stained glass art. The awesome French and German Gothic Cathedrals attracted far greater numbers of worshippers, which in turn generated more funds for the Church's artistic program.

Renaissance Art Collectors

Italian Renaissance art (1400-1600) was stimulated by the growing wealth of rival Italian city-states, the Church in Rome, and the collapse of the Eastern Roman Church in Constantinople (freeing large numbers of highly skilled craftsmen). The Early Renaissance began in Florence during the 15th-century, thanks largely to the patronage of the Medici Family. Members of the Medici dynasty who were active sponsors and collectors of fine art included: Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici (1360-1429), Cosimo I (1389-1464), Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-92), followed by Grand Duke Cosimo I (1519-74), Grand Duke Francesco I (1541-87), Grand Duke and Cardinal Ferdinando I (1549-1609), Grand Duke Cosimo II (1590-1621), Grand Duke Ferdinando II (1610-70), and Grand Duke Cosimo III (1642-73). The Renaissance in Rome was driven by Pope Leo X (1475-1521: reigned 1503-1513) and Pope Clement VII (1478-34: reigned 1523-1534), who between them very nearly bankrupted the Roman Church in the process. The greatest collections of Renaissance art include: the Uffizi Gallery (Florence), founded in 1581 by Grand-Duke Francesco I de' Medici; the numerous Vatican Museums, which trace their origin to a group of sculptures collected by Pope Julius II and first exhibited to the public in 1506, in the Vatican's Cortile Ottagono. The latter include: the Sistine Chapel, frescoed by Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli, Luca Signorelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio and of course the great Michelangelo; and the four Raphael Rooms (Stanze di Raffaello), decorated by Raphael and members of his workshop.


Mannerist and Baroque Art Collectors

Art during the 16th and 17th centuries was dominated by the religious politics of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation. The Reformation gave rise to the meticulous and highly portable style of Dutch Realist genre-painting, still life and portraiture, designed specifically for wealthy middle class collectors; the Counter-Reformation appealed to absolutist Kings, Queens and Emperors in courts throughout Europe.

One of the greatest art collectors of the era was the Italian Cardinal and diplomat Alessandro Farnese (1520-89), the grandson of Pope Paul III, who amassed the greatest private collection of Roman sculpture since Antiquity. (See also: the Bolognese School: c.1590-1650.) His art collection, including the Farnese Marbles as well as the assembly of gems originally built up by Cosimo de' Medici and Lorenzo il Magnifico, was later divided up between the National Museum of Capodimonte, the Naples National Archaeological Museum and the Farnese Gallery. In collector's terms, the 20th century American equivalent of Alessandro Farnese is J Paul Getty (1892-1976), who is noted for his Californian collection of Greek sculpture. One of the great Baroque collectors was the Italian Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1576-1633) of the Borghese family, who financed the painter Caravaggio. Scipione Borghese's legacy is the art collection at the Villa Borghese in Rome.

In France, one of the great Royal patrons of the arts was Francis I (1494-1547), who built the Louvre Palace and who was responsible for the influential Fontainebleau School of French Mannerism. However, it wasn't until the 18th-century that it was converted to an art museum - the Musee Centrale des Arts. Now of course it stands as one of the most extensive collections of fine art in the world, embracing Middle Eastern Antiquities, Egyptian treasures, Greek and Roman Antiquities, Islamic art, paintings, prints and drawings.

18th Century Art Collectors

The eighteenth century witnessed the rise of Russian culture under Peter the Great (ruled 1682-1725), who lured a huge number of architects, sculptors and painters to Russia. However, it wasn't until 1757 that the Russian Imperial Academy of the Arts was established, and it was left to his successor Czarina Catherine the Great (ruled 1762-96) in 1764 to set up the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The Hermitage is the largest state gallery in Russia and, with 3 million works, is one of the greatest art museums in the world. Catherine herself started the collection by buying more than 200 works from Johann Gotzkowsky in 1763. Additional collections acquired, included: The Bruhl collection (Saxony), The Crozat collection (France) and the Horace Walpole art collection (England), among others. Later Czars continued to add to the museums treasures by negotiating with collectors throughout Europe. See also: How to Appreciate Paintings.

19th Century & 20th Century Art Collectors: The Golden Era

The ideals of the French Revolution combined with the revolutionary efficiencies to set the background for art in the 19th-century. The growth of the middle classes led to an expansion of the market for fine art painting, with packed Salons across Europe. In Paris, the arts capital of the world they included the official Salon, the occasional Salon des Refuses (1863, 1874, 1875 and 1886), the Salon des Independants (from 1884) and eventually the Salon d'Automne (from 1903).

In 1874 the city gave birth to Impressionism, one of the greatest-ever movements of modern art, which itself spawned numerous others including Post-Impressionism and Fauvism. In addition, Impressionist paintings appeared at the same time as wealthy overseas buyers. The latter included the Russian collectors Sergei Shchukin (1854-1936) and Ivan Morozov (1871-1921), British collectors like Samuel Courtauld (1876-1947), and American collectors Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), Albert Barnes (1872-1951) and Duncan Phillips (1886-1966). French painters and sculptors also benefited from the promotional activities of several influential Parisian art dealers, including Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922), Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939), and Paul Guillaume (1891-1934).

The Parisian market for modern art stimulated collectors of Russian art in Moscow, such as Pavel Tretyakov (1832-1898), and collectors of American art in New York like Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942), founder of Whitney Museum, New York.

With the advent of 20th century abstract art movements such as Cubism (1908-14), Futurism (1909-14), Suprematism (1913-1918), Constructivism (c.1917-21), De Stijl (Dutch "Style") (1917-31), new art collectors emerged, whose focus was non-objective art. One of the first was the German-born dealer Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler (1884-1979), who was Picasso's first major dealer. He was superceded by Leonce Rosenberg (1879-1947) and his brother Paul Rosenberg (1881-1959), followed American collectors like Solomon R Guggenheim (1861-1949) and his niece Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979). Abstract art remained popular in America, where Abstract Expressionism became the leading idiom during the 1950s and early 60s. Collectors like Leo Castelli (1907-99) made their early reputations with abstract paintings and afterwards with Pop art. Another collector of modern American art was the famous critic Clement Greenberg (1909-94), whose collection can be seen at the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art, part of the Portland Art Museum. One of the great collectors of contemporary art, known for his high opinion of artists such as Damien Hirst and the late Donald Judd, is Charles Saatchi (b.1943), founder of the Saatchi Gallery in London.

Greatest Art Collections

Here are some of the greatest collections housed in a selection of the world's best art museums. For separate lists, see: Art Museums in Europe, and for the USA, Art Museums in America.

Encyclopedic Museum Collections

Louvre (Paris)
One of the world's largest collections.

Hermitage (St Petersburg)
Founded by Catherine the Great, it is one of the world's largest museums.

Pinakothek (Munich)
A trio of important art galleries in Munich's Kunstareal.

Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Encyclopedic collection contains 450,000 works of art.

Detroit Institute of Arts
$1 billion collection of 65,000 items: inc collection of paintings by American artists.

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
Founded by John Taylor Johnston and others, it is one of the largest museums in the world, housing a collection of 3 million items covering almost every era and culture.

Art Institute of Chicago
Huge assembly of fine/decorative arts, inc Pre-Columbian art, notably Meso-American ceramics.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Collection has 225,000 items: paintings, ceramics, sculpture, armour, tapestry, furniture and other decorative art, from Europe, the Americas and China.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Over 100,000 works of early cultures, fine art and contemporary art forms.

J Paul Getty Museum of Art (Los Angeles)
Includes artworks at the Getty Center and antiquities at the Getty Villa.

National/State Collections

Prado Madrid
World's No 1 collection of Spanish painting: El Greco, Velazquez, Ribera, Zurbaran. Founded by Spanish King Charles III in 1785.

Tretyakov Gallery Moscow
Has the world's greatest collection of Russian icons, and Russian art. Established by Pavel Tretyakov.

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Famous for its Habsburg art collections and the largest holding of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Rijksmuseum (State Museum of Amsterdam)
Masterpieces by Rembrandt, Jan Vermeer, Frans Hals and other Dutch Realists.

National Gallery London
Home of the British state collection of artworks produced before 1900.

British Royal Art Collection
7,000 paintings, 40,000 watercolours and drawings, 150,000 old master prints, collected by the Kings and Queens of England.

Tate Collection, London
Founded by Sir Henry Tate. Includes Tate Britain and Tate Modern.

National Gallery of Art Washington DC
High quality collection of Old Masters and works by American artists.

Whitney Museum of American Art
Founded by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, it has one of the finest holdings of American painting and sculpture.

Decorative Arts

Victoria and Albert Museum (London)
The world's largest museum of decorative art and design. Conceived by Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria.


Uffizi Gallery (Florence)
One of the finest collections of Italian Renaissance works.

Vatican Museums
Holds the priceless art collection assembled over the centuries by the Catholic Church.

French Modernism

Musee d'Orsay (Paris)
Greatest collection of 19th century French painting, notably Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works.

Barnes Foundation (Merion)
Focuses on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings.

Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh)
Specializes in modern art from Europe and America.

20th Century Modern Art

Museum of Modern Art, MoMA (New York)
World's finest collection of modern art (1860 onwards). Founded by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (wife of John D. Rockefeller Jr.), Mrs. Cornelius J. Sullivan, Miss Lillie P. Bliss, and others.

Samuel R Guggenheim Museum (New York)
World-famous collection of early modern art, and contemporary art by major artists from Europe and America. Founded by Samuel Guggenheim.

Guggenheim Venice
Noted for 20th century works of Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Founded by Peggy Guggenheim.

Hugh Lane Gallery Dublin
Ireland's leading collection of modernist works, founded by Hugh Lane. Includes a reconstruction of Francis Bacon's art studio.

Contemporary Art

Pompidou Centre (Paris)
Famous for its collection of 20th century avant-garde art.

Saatchi Gallery (London)
Founded by Charles Saatchi, it is Britain's foremost museum of contemporary art.

Famous Compact Collections

Frick Collection
Oil paintings, sculpture, porcelain, rare furniture, Limoges enamel, Oriental carpets.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Bijou collection of Italian Renaissance works.

Phillips Collection
Highlights include El Greco, Goya, Renoir, Winslow Homer, Whistler, and Mark Rothko. Founded by Duncan Phillips.

Courtauld Institute Gallery
Noted for its spectacular Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting. Founded by Samuel Courtauld.


• For more about the world's greatest collectors of paintings and sculptures, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.