The Whims of Artists Who Collect
The artists have been known to collect art of their own, albeit with a variety of reasons and purposes. Edgar Degas was known to collect them only in exchange of his own works, Thomas Lawrence and anthusiastic collector treasured a collection of more than a whopping 4,000 and Pablo Picasso used one of his acquisitions for target practice, thus living up to his persona.
An exhibition that is scheduled to open this week at the National Gallery, UK would take a deeper look at an array of paintings from the perspective of the artists who acquired them. The exhibition titled Painter’s Paintings puts on showcase more than 80 of the works from within the gallery in addition to numerous more that are borrowed from other collections. This act of borrowing and lending in itself is a homage to the way the artists would exchange, buy, and collect the works of other artists that they felt worthy of repeated showcases and viewings.
The idea to design this show was conceived when “Italian Woman” a portrait by Camille Corot was gifted to the National Gallery out of the artist Lucian Freud’s collection in 2011. This painting is known to have stood unabashedly in clear view from his bedroom displaying its conspicuously bold brushstrokes which are reflected in Freud’s technique as well.
Some more of such examples that are the most precious of them all are: Degas’ “Combing the Hair” and Paul Cezanne’s “Three Bathers” from the collection of the maestro Henri Matisse, Titian’s “Portrait of Girolamo” from Anthony van Dyck’s collection, and the multiple works of Rembrandt owned by Thomas Lawrence.
According to what the curator of the exhibition Anne Robbins says, most of the artists, when they began collecting would not buy or acquire, but barter or exchange their works with their contemporaries. This, she explains was done with the intent to study the peer’s work and compare their own work to it. An attempt and a way to determine the quality of the works they had been doing.
The artists were known to go to great lengths to acquire the original works rather than reproductions as the intent was to study in depth the techniques of the artist. Degas was known to pay the dealers with his own works like three of his pastels with a combined value of 12,000 francs in 1895 to acquire other artists’ works like the portrait of Baron Schwiter by Eugène Delacroix. The artist and founder of the Royal Academy Joshua Reynolds would acquire Old Masters paintings from his collection as a teaching and study material to teach his students.
He believed that great works of art were the ideal for a student to mimic while keeping in view that these were also the competition that needed to be conquered.
However, ownership was not always a means of flattery. Like in case of the eccentric Pablo Picasso. He and Henry Matisse had a tempestuous relationship which was marked with thinly veiled envy and a deep seated professional contention.
When, in 1907, the two artists were presented with an opportunity to choose a work from the other’s portfolio, both intentionally are said to have chosen the ones that were probably the prime example of the other’s mediocrity. Picasso is known to have hung Matisse’s “Portrait of Marguerite” in his studio and invite his friends to shoot darts at it with toy guns.
Artists like Degas were one of those who bought the art of the contemporaries as a measure to show support. Even when it was considered unsaleable, Degas amassed a great collection of early Impressionist works that included works of his friend Camille Pissarro.
It was much later though that the question of legacy emerged, especially for those who had succeeded in building substantial collections. One of the most prominent portraitist of Britain in the early 19th century, Thomas Lawrence had acquired 4,300 works by Maestros or Old Master drawings. This was primarily after the French revolution when the Napoleonic wars resulted in a huge dumping of precious artworks in the market.
The artist had a knack for showing off his connoisseurship and his collections proved to be an inspiration for numerous fellow artists to seek his guidance to build up their own private collections. Incidentally, several of these collections have come to form the basis of the collection at the National Gallery.