Private collection

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Trophy collection of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein at Usov Chateau, Czech Republic Usov.jpg
Trophy collection of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein at Úsov Château, Czech Republic

A private collection is a privately owned collection of works (usually artworks) or valuable items. In a museum or art gallery context, the term signifies that a certain work is not owned by that institution, but is on loan from an individual or organization, either for temporary exhibition or for the long term. This source is usually an art collector, although it could also be a school, church, bank, or some other company or organization. By contrast, collectors of books, even if they collect for aesthetic reasons (fine bookbindings or illuminated manuscripts for example), are called bibliophiles, and their collections are typically referred to as libraries.



This corner of a cabinet of curiosities, painted by Frans II Francken in 1636, reveals the range of connoisseurship a Baroque-era virtuoso might evince. Frans Francken d. J. 009.jpg
This corner of a cabinet of curiosities, painted by Frans II Francken in 1636, reveals the range of connoisseurship a Baroque-era virtuoso might evince.

Art collecting was common among the wealthy in the Ancient World in both Europe and East Asia, and in the Middle Ages, but developed in its modern form during the Renaissance and continues to the present day. [1] The Royal collections of most countries were originally the grandest of private collections but are now mostly in public ownership. However the British Royal Collection remains under the care of the Crown, though distinguished from the private property of the British Royal Family. The cabinet of curiosities was an important mixed form of collection, including art and what we would now call natural history or scientific collections. These were formed by royalty but smaller ones also by merchants and scholars.

The tastes and habits of collectors have played a very important part in determining what art was produced, providing the demand that artists supply. Many types of objects, such as medals, engravings, small plaquettes, modern engraved gems and bronze statuettes were essentially made for the collector's market. By the 18th century all homes of the well-to-do were expected to contain a selection of objects, from paintings to porcelain, that could form part of an art collection, and the collections of those who would normally qualify for the term had to be considerably larger, and some were enormous. Increasingly collectors tended to specialize in one or two types of work, although some, like George Salting (1835-1909), still had a very wide scope for their collections. Apart from antiquities, which were regarded as perhaps the highest form of collecting from the Renaissance until relatively recently, and also books, paintings and prints from the late 15th century onwards, until the 18th century collectors tended to collect fairly new works from Europe. The extension of serious collecting to art from all periods and places was an essentially 19th-century development, or at least dating to the Age of Enlightenment. Trecento paintings were little appreciated until about the 1830s, and Chinese ritual bronzes and jades until perhaps the 1920s. Collecting of African art was rare until after World War II.

In recognition of its importance in influencing the production of new art and the preservation of old art, art collecting has been an area of considerable academic research in recent decades, having been somewhat neglected previously. [2]

Famous art collections

A painting c. 1651 by David Teniers the Younger depicting part of the famous collection formed by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria while he was Governor of the Spanish Netherlands from 1647 to 1656. David Teniers d. J. 008.jpg
A painting c.1651 by David Teniers the Younger depicting part of the famous collection formed by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria while he was Governor of the Spanish Netherlands from 1647 to 1656.

Very famous collections that are now dispersed include the Borghese Collection and Farnese collection in Rome, and the Orleans Collection in Paris, mostly sold in London. When this happens, it can be a large loss to those interested in art as the initial vision of the collector is lost.

The Princely Family of Liechtenstein have works by such artists as Hals, Raphael, Rembrandt and Van Dyck, a collection containing some 1,600 works of art, but were unable to show them since 1945 when they were smuggled out of Nazi Germany. The works were finally displayed in the Liechtenstein Museum after nearly 60 years with most in storage. [3] The important collection of the Thyssen family, mostly kept in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which settled in Madrid in 1992, was bought by the Spanish state. Only an exhibited part, the collection of Carmen Cervera, widow of the late Baron Thyssen, remains private but exhibited separately in the museum.

Many collections were left to the public in some form, and are now museums, or the nucleus of a museum's collection. Most museums are formed around one or more formerly private collection acquired as a whole. Major examples where few or no additions have been made include the Wallace Collection and Sir John Soane's Museum in London, the Frick Collection and Morgan Library in New York, The Phillips Collection in Washington DC, and the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon Portugal.

Other collections remain complete but are merged into larger collections in museums. Some important 19th/20th examples are:

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metropolitan Museum of Art</span> Museum in New York City

The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City, colloquially "the Met", is the largest art museum in the Western Hemisphere. Its permanent collection contains over two million works, divided among 17 curatorial departments. The main building at 1000 Fifth Avenue, along the Museum Mile on the eastern edge of Central Park on Manhattan's Upper East Side, is by area one of the world's largest art museums. A much smaller second location, The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan, contains an extensive collection of art, architecture, and artifacts from medieval Europe.

Wallace Collection Museum in London, England

The Wallace Collection is a museum in London occupying Hertford House in Manchester Square, the former townhouse of the Seymour family, Marquesses of Hertford. It is named after Sir Richard Wallace, who built the extensive collection, along with the Marquesses of Hertford, in the 18th and 19th centuries. The collection features fine and decorative arts from the 15th to the 19th centuries with important holdings of French 18th-century paintings, furniture, arms and armour, porcelain and Old Master paintings arranged into 25 galleries. It is open to the public and entry is free.

Wadsworth Atheneum Art museum in Hartford, Connecticut

The Wadsworth Atheneum is an art museum in Hartford, Connecticut. The Wadsworth is noted for its collections of European Baroque art, ancient Egyptian and Classical bronzes, French and American Impressionist paintings, Hudson River School landscapes, modernist masterpieces and contemporary works, as well as collections of early American furniture and decorative arts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Courtauld Gallery</span> Art collection in London, England

The Courtauld Gallery is an art museum in Somerset House, on the Strand in central London. It houses the collection of the Courtauld Institute of Art, a self-governing college of the University of London specialising in the study of the history of art.

Petrus Christus Flemish painter (c.1410–1475)

Petrus Christus was an Early Netherlandish painter active in Bruges from 1444, where, along with Hans Memling, he became the leading painter after the death of Jan van Eyck. He was influenced by van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden and is noted for his innovations with linear perspective and a meticulous technique which seems derived from miniatures and manuscript illumination. Today, some 30 works are confidently attributed to him. The best known include the Portrait of a Carthusian (1446) and Portrait of a Young Girl ; both are highly innovative in the presentation of the figure against detailed, rather than flat, backgrounds.

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum Art museum in Madrid, Spain

The Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, or simply the Thyssen, is an art museum in Madrid, Spain, located near the Prado Museum on one of the city's main boulevards. It is known as part of the "Golden Triangle of Art", which also includes the Prado and the Reina Sofía national galleries. The Thyssen-Bornemisza fills the historical gaps in its counterparts' collections: in the Prado's case this includes Italian primitives and works from the English, Dutch and German schools, while in the case of the Reina Sofia it concerns Impressionists, Expressionists, and European and American paintings from the 20th century.

Stephen Carlton Clark American politician

Stephen Carlton Clark was an American art collector, businessman, newspaper publisher and philanthropist. He founded the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Gwendoline Elizabeth Davies, CH, was a Welsh philanthropist and patron of the arts who, together with her sister Margaret, is recognised as the most influential collector of Impressionist and 20th-century art in Wales. She and her sister were independently wealthy, their fortune inherited from the businesses created by their grandfather, the industrialist David Davies. Davies and her sister created one of the most important private collections of art in Britain and donated their total of 260 works to what is now the National Museum Wales in the mid-20th century.

Margaret Sidney Davies, was a Welsh art collector and patron of the arts. With her sister Gwendoline, she bequeathed a total of 260 works, particularly strong in Impressionist and 20th-century art, which formed the basis of the present-day National Museum Wales' international collection. The sisters started the Gregynog Press in 1922 and the Gregynog Music Festival in 1933.

Princeton University Art Museum Art Museum

The Princeton University Art Museum (PUAM) is the Princeton University gallery of art, located in Princeton, New Jersey. With a collecting history that began in 1755, the Museum was formally established in 1882, and now houses over 113,000 works of art ranging from antiquity to the contemporary period. The Princeton University Art Museum dedicates itself to supporting and enhancing the University's goals of teaching, research, and service in fields of art and culture, as well as to serving regional communities and visitors from around the world. Its collections concentrate on the Mediterranean region, Western Europe, Asia, the United States, and Latin America.

Holburne Museum Art gallery in Bath, England

The Holburne Museum is located in Sydney Pleasure Gardens, Bath, Somerset, England. The city's first public art gallery, the Grade I listed building, is home to fine and decorative arts built around the collection of Sir William Holburne. Artists in the collection include Gainsborough, Guardi, Stubbs, Ramsay and Zoffany.

Chester Dale American banker and patron of the arts

Chester Dale was an American banker and patron of the arts. Dale earned large sums from working for the New York Stock Exchange, allowing him to collect 19th and 20th-century French paintings. Although he considered establishing a private museum, he donated a part of his collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1941. The rest of his collection was bequeathed to the National Gallery upon his death.

Lillie P. Bliss American art collector and patron

Lizzie Plummer Bliss, known as Lillie P. Bliss, was an American art collector and patron. At the beginning of the 20th century, she was one of the leading collectors of modern art in New York. One of the lenders to the landmark Armory Show in 1913, she also contributed to other exhibitions concerned with raising public awareness of modern art. In 1929, she played an essential role in the founding of the Museum of Modern Art. After her death, 150 works of art from her collection served as a foundation to the museum and formed the basis of the in-house collection. These included works by artists such as Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani.

Waddesdon Bequest Ex-Rothschild collection of Renaissance art in the British Museum

In 1898, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild bequeathed to the British Museum as the Waddesdon Bequest the contents from his New Smoking Room at Waddesdon Manor. This consisted of a wide-ranging collection of almost 300 objets d'art et de vertu, which included exquisite examples of jewellery, plate, enamel, carvings, glass and maiolica. One of the earlier objects is the outstanding Holy Thorn Reliquary, probably created in the 1390s in Paris for John, Duke of Berry. The collection is in the tradition of a schatzkammer, or treasure house, such as those formed by the Renaissance princes of Europe; indeed, the majority of the objects are from late Renaissance Europe, although there are several important medieval pieces, and outliers from classical antiquity and medieval Syria.

<i>Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley</i> Painting by Paul Cézanne

Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley is an oil painting on canvas completed by the French artist Paul Cézanne between 1882 and 1885. It depicts Montagne Sainte-Victoire and the valley of the Arc River, with Cézanne's hometown of Aix-en-Provence in the background. Once owned by the art collectors and patrons Henry and Louisine Havemeyer, the painting was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York after the latter's death in 1929.

<i>Girls at the Piano</i> Painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Young Girls at the Piano is an oil-on-canvas painting by French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style. The painting was completed in 1892 as an informal commission for the Musée du Luxembourg. Renoir painted three other variations of this composition in oil and two sketches, one in oil and one in pastel. Known by the artist as repetitions, they were executed to fulfill commissions from dealers and collectors. The work is on public display at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris.

Thomas Agnew & Sons is a fine arts dealer in London that began life as part of in a print and publishing partnership with Vittore Zanetti in Manchester in 1817 which ended in 1835, when Agnew took full control of the company. The firm opened its London gallery in 1860, where it soon established itself as one of Mayfair's leading dealerships. Since then Agnew's has held a pre-eminent position in the world of Old Master paintings. It also had a major role in the massive growth of a market for contemporary British art in the late 19th century. In 2013, after nearly two centuries of family ownership, Agnew's closed. The name was subsequently purchased privately and the gallery is now run by Lord Anthony Crichton-Stuart, a former head of Christie's Old Master paintings department, New York.

Charles Loeser

Charles Alexander Loeser was an American art historian and art collector.

Audrey Jones Beck was an American art collector and philanthropist who donated her personal art collection to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The John A. and Audrey Jones Beck Collection included impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, and the museum named its Audrey Jones Beck Building in her honor.

Charles Truman

Charles Henry Truman, FSA, was an art historian and a leading authority on gold boxes.


  1. Jim Lane (2005-10-25). "Private Art Collections" . Retrieved 2006-10-03.
  2. "How to become an art collector?".
  3. Martin Bailey. "The World's Second Greatest Private Art Collection". Forbes. Retrieved 2006-10-03.
  4. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art - The Robert Lehman Collection". Retrieved 2012-06-11.
  5. Metropolitan Museum of Art press release, September 1999
  6. Thomas Hoving. Making the Mummies Dance. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

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