We delved into the Forbes list of billionaire collectors and discovered that the great majority go for 20th-century and contemporary art

Of the 497 billionaires, 36 are major collectors


These are the top connoisseurs—the collectors most valued by international auction houses and leading dealers. Not only do they have taste, but also the means to indulge their passions. Every year the authoritative US business magazine Forbes publishes its list of billionaires, but this time round it also provided a special list of wealthy art collectors.

But this is only part of the story. The Art Newspaper has elaborated on the Forbes list, to produce a more comprehensive list. Sticking to the Forbes billionaires, we have added another two dozen art collectors (giving the Forbes figures on their total wealth, not their art). Our comments on their collecting fields are based on a range of sources, including the annual collector survey published by the New York-based magazine ARTNews.

What then are our findings? Of the 497 billionaires on the Forbes list, 36 singled out by The Art Newspaper are known as major art collectors, although a good number of the others decorate their properties with pictures. Of the 36, 20 are from the US. Four are from Germany, two each from Britain and France, and one from Canada, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and Venezuela. When it comes to taste, 22 of the 36 collectors go for Modern and contemporary. Impressionism lags some way behind, with only 8 collectors. Clearly those with ultra financial ambitions opt for the cutting edge.

The billionaire collectors:

William H. Gates III, $52.8 billion, age 46, United States. Collects: 19th-century American paintings, rare books. In 1994 Microsoft’s founder paid $31 million for Leonardo’s Codex Leicester and four years ago he bought Winslow Homer’s “Lost on the Grand Banks” for $36 million, reportedly the highest price ever for an American picture.

Paul G. Allen, $25.2 billion, age 49, United States. Collects: Old Masters, Impressionism. Since leaving Microsoft in 1983, he has built up an even better art collection than that of his co-founder. Working with David Nash (formerly Sotheby’s), he has gone for Monet, Cézanne and Gauguin.

Kenneth Thomson, $14.9 billion, age 78, Canada. Collects: Medieval, Renaissance. Passions are sculpture, jewellery and portrait miniatures. His wealth comes from the newspaper and financial data business.

Carlos Slim Helu, $11.5 billion, age 62, Mexico. Collects: Rodin. His collection is second only to that of the Musée Rodin in Paris. Said to be the richest man in Latin America, having made a fortune from Telefonos de Mexico

Friederich K. Flick, $5.5 billion, age 75, Germany. Collects: Old Masters, European sculpture, Modern, contemporary. His wealth comes from the Flick industrial empire.

Gustave Cisneros, $5.2 billion, age 56 Venezuela. Collects: Latin American. With his wife Patricia, the founder of Univision TV has 3,000 pieces, primarily Modern and Contemporary - Latin American, as well as American and European.

Eli Broad, $5.2 billion age 68, United States. Collects: Modern, Contemporary. Eli and his wife Edythe have more than 1,100 works. An insurance tycoon, he helped set up the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

Philip F. Anschutz, $5.1 billion, age 62, United States. Collects: 19th-20th century American. Having begun making money in oil, he has branched out and in May bought London’s Millennium Dome.

Carl Icahn, $5 billion, age 66, United States. Collects: Old Masters, Impressionism. Investment genius. Samuel Newhouse Jr, $5 billion, age 74, United States. Collects: Modern, Contemporary. Runs Condé Nast magazines.

David Sainsbury, $4.3 billion, age 61, United Kingdom. Collects: Modern, contemporary. The Sainsbury supermarket dynasty have been extremely generous to the arts in Britain, building the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery and the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich.

Charles R. Schwab, $4.1 billion, age 64, United States. Collects: Modern, contemporary. Stock Exchange broker.

Walter H. Annenberg, $4 billion, age 93, United States. Collects: Impressionism. Has donated a huge group of works to New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Made his fortune in publishing, and later served as US ambassador in London.

David Geffen, $4 billion, age 59, United States. Collects: Modern, contemporary. His passion is American Modernism. Music and Hollywood tycoon.

Rudolf August Oetker, $4 billion, aged 85, Germany. Collects: Old Masters. Runs family food and shipping company.

Sakip Sabanci, $3.3 billion, age 69, Turkey. Collects: Islamic calligraphy, Turkish painting. Turkey’s leading industrialists opened their family mansion as a museum in May.

Stephan Schmidhein, $3.1 billion, age 54 Switzerland. Collects: Modern, contemporary. His special love is Abstract Expressionism. The “green billionaire” makes money from environmentally friendly projects.

Reinhold Würth, $3.1 billion, 66, Germany. Collects: Modern, contemporary. An industrialist with a 6,000-piece collection of 20th-century art, housed in a museum in the company headquarters at Künzelsau, as well as a new gallery in Schwäbisch Hall near Stuttgart.

Leonard A. Lauder, $2.9 billion, age 68, United States. Collects: Modern. His favourite field is Cubism. Chairman of Estée Lauder and chair of New York’s Whitney Museum.

Leslie Herbert Wexner, $2.6 billion, age 64, United States. Collects: Modern, contemporary. His fortune comes from retail clothing.

Achille Maramotti, $2.5 billion, age 75, Italy. Collects: Renaissance, Modern. Founder of MaxMara clothing company.

François Pinault, $3.1 billion, age 65, France. Collects: Modern, Contemporary. When Pinault acquired Christie’s in 1998, he was already a passionate collector. He is now building his own museum on an island in the Seine, west of Paris.

David Rockefeller, $2.5 billion, age 86, United States.Collects: Impressionism, early 20th century. Strong Picasso collection. Former chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, he is also chairman emeritus of the New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Barbara P. Johnson, $2.4 billion, age 65, United States. Collects: Old Masters. Acquired a “Saint Praxedis”, thought by some to be by Vermeer. A Polish immigrant who married the son of Johnson & Johnson founder, John Johnson.

Ronald S. Lauder, $2.4 billion, age 58, United States. Collects: Arms and armour; early 20th-century German and Austrian painting. Younger brother of Leonard and last September he opened his Neue Galerie museum in Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

Ronald O. Perelman, $2.1 billion, 59, United States. Collects: Contemporary. Venture capitalist.

Sammy and Yuli Ofer, $2 billion, Israel. Collects: Impressionism, Contemporary. Romanian-born brothers with shipping empire, with Sammy as the collector.

Fayez Shalaby Sarofim, $1.8 billion, age 73, United States. Collects: Coptic sculpture, Old Masters, 19th-century, Modern, contemporary. Egyptian-born investment specialist, with wide collecting interests.

Bernard Arnault, $7 billion, age 53, France. Collects: Impressionism, Modern, contemporary. Forbes admits that he makes the collector list because he sank up to $100 million into Phillips de Pury Luxembourg, which he sold earlier this year

Donald G. Fisher, $1.5 billion, age 73, United States. Collects: Contemporary. Along with his wife, they collect German and American. Made his money from the Gap retail chain.

Albert von Thurn und Taxis, $1.4 billion, age 18, Germany. Collects: Porcelain. Inherited his father’s estate last year, although much of the art collection was depleted by inheritance taxes. Most is now State property, housed in the family castle in Regensburg.

Henry R. Kravis, $1.3 billion, age 58, United States.Collects: Old Masters, Impressionism, French furniture. A collector with his wife Marie-Josée. Financier and investor.

Alicia Koplowitz, $1.3 billion, age 49, Spain. Collects: Old Masters, Modern. Sold her family interests in construction company to invest proceeds.

Peter B. Lewis, $1.2 billion, age 67, United States. Collects: Contemporary. Specialises in American Conceptualism. Insurance tycoon.

George L. Lindemann, $1.2 billion, age 65 United States. Collects: Contemporary. Wealth from investments and real estate.

Joseph Lewis, $1.1 billion, age 65, United Kingdom

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Contemporary art is the clear winner'