John Spurling

Making the day go better

Collecting art is an addiction. Neither its cost nor its supposed value as an investment has much to do with it. If you are rich you buy expensive art by recognised masters and get advice from experts, but if you are poor you follow your own taste among the lesser or little known and probably enjoy yourself just as much. The addiction is not confined to individuals; it can catch businesses too, although it’s usually started by an individual, as for instance by David Rockefeller in 1959 when he set up what is now the J.P. Morgan Chase collection. He brought in a selection committee of leading American museum directors and curators, and the collection now boasts, in the words of its current curator, Stacey Gershon, of being ‘a who’s who of the international art world of the 20th century’.

Deutsche Bank began collecting systematically in the 1970s, when a member of the board asked two professors of art to help design ‘the Deutsche Bank Art Concept’. The Bank now has a collection of 50,000 items and calls the 130 conference rooms in its London branch after the artists whose work hangs there. Its Frankfurt headquarters is even more art-obsessed: each of the 55 floors of its twin towers is called after a German artist, and the artists’ names appear beside the lift-buttons. ‘Travelling down the building,’ writes the bank’s art adviser Alistair Hicks, ‘the artists get younger and younger: the floors are arranged chronologically.’

Baring Brothers also began collecting art ‘purposefully’ in the 1970s, starting with topographical pictures and a few abstracts, moving on to 18th- and 19th-century English watercolours and figurative works by early-modern British artists. When Barings was acquired by the financial services group ING in 1995, its art collection and the addiction went with it, though ING’s particular interest is in Dutch modern art.

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