Historically, the artwork of our most esteemed artists has been a luxury reserved for the likes of museums and the world’s elite.
An established art collection has been regarded as an icon of status and wealth, and understandably so, when single paintings can come with a price tag spanning millions of dollars.
We’ve taken a look at some of the world’s highest-paying art collectors, what prestigious pieces they have in their portfolios and how they got into art collecting.
Steven A Cohen
Hedge funder Steven Cohen is far from shy when it comes to spending his $11.1 billion fortune. Renowned for being one of the world’s most avid art enthusiasts, he has curated an art collection that is estimated to be worth a hot $1 billion.
Cohen told Fortune that when he chooses a new piece of art, “I am purely from the gut, and I know right away. If it stays in my brain—let’s say I go see a picture, if I keep thinking about it, I know it’s something I like. If I forget about it, then I know, couldn’t care less.”
While his collection boasts the works of Picasso, Lichtenstein and Warhol, he also seeks out new works by lower-profile painters.
His most extravagant purchase, Picasso's La Reve, is the most expensive artwork ever bought by a US collector. Cohen purchased the masterpiece for $155 million in 2013, besting his previous record of $137.5 which he paid for Willem de Kooning’s Woman III in 2006.
Talking of Woman III, art historian and author Anna Tietze said, “these painterly studies of women have prompted criticisms of de Kooning’s misogyny; in Woman III, the female figure seems to be violated by the way in which she is painted. But others have admired de Kooning for his lavish, bold, sensuous painting style.”
Owner of Warner Music Group, Leonard Blavatnik is estimated to be worth a whopping $15.2 billion. His passion for the arts spans beyond music though—generous donations to London galleries have led to a new wing at the Tate Modern being named the “Blavatnik Wing” and a new entrance at the Victoria & Albert Museum is now being known as the “Blavatnik Building”. He was also knighted by the Queen in 2017 for his philanthropy and generous donations to the arts.
It’s no secret that Blavatnik is the proud owner of a treasured art collection, though what’s actually included is shrouded in mystery. He is rumoured to own Nude, Green Leaves and Bust by Pablo Picasso (1932), bought at auction for $106.5 million in 2006. Though this has never been confirmed, an Instagram post showing the “home of the owner of Warner Records” featured the Picasso hanging prominently on the wall.
The angular, abstract aesthetic of Picasso’s cubist work is something that emerged with the invention of the camera, explains Tietze. “Artists began to focus on the things that painting could do which photography couldn’t; painting could offer an alternative view of reality, rather than an accurate documentation of it.”
Leon Black, founder of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, comes from an arts family—his father is a keen theatre goer and his mother is a painter—embedding a passion for art within him at an early age.
In the art world, Black is notable for owning two of the most prized pieces in the world: Irises by Vincent van Gogh (1889) and The Scream by Edvard Munch (1895 pastel). Munch’s The Scream was purchased for $119.9 million, which, at the time, was the most expensive work ever sold at auction.
The Scream comes in four versions – two in paint, one in crayon and one in pastel. Black’s version (the 1895 pastel) stands apart for its vividness, and the fact that it’s the only version where one of the characters in the background is looking over the bridge at the fjord below.
As co-founder of both Wynn Resorts and Mirage Resorts, Elaine Wynn has gained herself the nickname “Queen of Las Vegas,” as well as a monumental net worth of $1.85 billion. The casino magnate spent the best part of four decades revitalizing the Las Vegas strip, during which time she helped put together the Bellagio’s premier fine art gallery, indulging her lifelong love for art.
In an interview with Forbes discussing her private art collection, Wynn said that “the things I do, I do because they’re deep passions of mine. If I’m invested, I’m all the way in.”
The most notable piece in her collection is Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) by Francis Bacon, which she purchased for $142.4 million. She explained to Forbes that when she saw the painting, “first I was worried I’d want to buy it. Then I was worried I might not get it.”
Bacon’s portraits famously feature sitters with disfigured faces. Tietze explains that, "in short, the disfigured face is a face disfigured by the artist's negative emotion."