For as long as artists have produced works of art they have also collected them. In researching a painting’s provenance, we can learn a great deal about questions of taste and influence by considering those paintings that have been owned by other artists.
Old Master Drawings are often easier to trace to historical collections thanks to their readily identifiable collectors’ stamps, with those belonging to mega-collectors striking an immediate chord of recognition among the cognoscenti. Dickinson’s red chalk drawing by Carlo Cignani, Study of two female heads looking to the right (of circa 1680) bears three significant stamps: those of Jonathan Richardson Sr, Thomas Hudson and Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Artists’ collecting choices can be influenced by their own painting styles. For instance, Francesco Fontebasso’s small-scale modello depicting The Vision of Saint Jerome belonged to the miniaturist and Tiepolo pupil Johann Dominik Bossi. The brilliant draughtsman Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Portrait of a lady; a head study was in the collection of the English realist painter Eliot Hodgkin. The French-Cubist painter André Lhote appears in the provenance of Nu Debout, a 1907 drawing by one of the originators of the Cubist movement, Georges Braque. And it makes sense that the post-Impressionist and Van Gogh champion Émile Schuffenecker would also look back at the work of Impressionists such as Renoir, whose Jeune Femme Nu he once owned.
Francesco FONTEBASSO (Venice 1707 – 1769), The Vision of Saint Jerome
Sir Thomas LAWRENCE, P.R.A. (Bristol 1769 – 1830 London), Portrait of a lady; a head study
Pierre-Auguste RENOIR (1841 – 1919), Jeune Femme Nu
We also see paintings given or exchanged as gifts to friends and family members. Picasso’s rare Rose Period Jeune Garçon nu à Cheval was exchanged with his neighbour in the Bâteau Lavoir, the Fauvist Kees van Dongen. The landscape by Van Dongen given to Picasso is now preserved in the Musée Picasso, while Van Dongen recorded Jeune Garçon nu à Cheval in a lithograph depicting the young Picasso surrounded by paintings in his studio. And Francis Picabia’s Elle Danse belonged to the Italian print and collage artist (and author of a 1986 text on Picabia) Enrico Baj, who either received it as a gift or purchased it from Picabia’s widow Olga.
Francis PICABIA (1879 – 1953), Elle danse, 1948
Yet more examples emerge if we consider artists in other media and fields beyond the visual arts; these collectors will be the subject of a future insight.