Friday, January 23, 2015

Applauding Patrons of the Arts

Tourists, students, and scholars visit capital cities across the globe to make a pilgrimage to the museums who hold each country's national treasures. Private collections, on the other hand, those masterpieces known only to a privileged few (Monets, Matisses and others) are legally owned and secretly-guarded by companies in tax havens: Liechtenstein, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and the Cook Islands.

Van Gogh's 1894 painting, Watermill at Gennep, is one of the works Thyssen-Bornemisza purchased with the help of an offshore operative based in the South Pacific haven of the Cook Islands. A number of pieces in Thyssen-Bornemisa's collection were acquired from international auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's through a Cook Islands company now called Portcullis TrustNet, who helped with the arrangements under a secretive structure connecting people in multiple countries.

Tax benefits gained from owning art offshore offer "maximum flexibility" when moving a painting from country to country. This freedom of circulation facilitates the transfer of art across national borders, an activity that currently presents its own unique set of financial and legal challenges.

The global art market now tops $55.1 billion. A 2006 Senate Investigation found that billionaire brothers Sam and Charles Wyly and their families spent at least $30 million in untaxed offshore dollars on artwork, jewelry and furnishings over a 13-year period.

As with many art purchases, collectors pay sales taxes in the countries where the pieces are acquired. The advantage to working with offshore accounts is not paying annual wealth taxes in countries with more stringent regulations.

Thyssen-Bornemisa treats her art collection as have other patrons for generations. Well-known is the story of how Hendrickje Stoffels financed Rembrandt's career after the painter went bankrupt. In an artful maneuver, the enterprise she created with Rembrandt's son, the seventeen-year-old Titus, shielded Rembrandt from creditors while allowing him to work as an employee of the H&T art dealership. Thanks to Stoffels' smart art patronage, Rembrandt was able to focus on his painting instead of his finances, producing among other masterpieces this impressive three-quarter length self-portrait.

Take Agnes Dürer the wife of Albrecht. The fifteen-year-old daughter of a well-to-do metal worker brought a healthy dowry of two hundred florins to the Dürer marriage, into which her husband immediately dipped (financing an extended art trip to Italy).

Self-Portrait, 1500(s)
Albrecht Dürer

Every morning at the Nuremberg marketplace or the Frankfurt fair, Agnes marketed his prints, handling the money side of their enterprise. Thanks largely in part to Agnes, Dürer became the first Northern artist to be directly influenced by first-hand contact with the Italian Renaissance. His engravings and oil panels display the influences of Italian art. He depicted historical biblical characters Adam and Eve as a more complex, highlighting Adam's air of bewilderment and uncertainty, and Eve's positive dance toward the forbidden fruit on the tree of knowledge.

Melencolia 1, 1514

Throughout history patrons of the arts, those individuals behind the financing of art productions, have had the privilege of endowing generations of citizens with masterpieces that would not come into being were it not for their generous patronage. Tax havens fulfill the world's desire for the continuance of our inherited and yet-to-be-created cultural heritage.

This exchange demonstrates a sort of magic that happens in museums, galleries, private collections, and whispers around the world. The resulting spark connects works of arts to their rightful place in the institutions and collections that house masterpieces of human ingenuity.

While art is still considered a leisure activity, entertainment for aristocrats, merchants, and even the working class, the importance each culture places on the kaleidoscope of objects demonstrates the value and pride we associate with our aesthetic contribution to the world. Devoted to expressing our aesthetic interpretation of the natural world, human beings count art among our most treasured artifacts.

Arie Kopel, The Antiques King, with his wife, Coco, 
in their Mark Hampton-designed apartment on Park Avenue

In addition to savoring life, patrons finance millions of paintings, drawings, cut-outs, color and design studies, and works of laborious leisure. With respect to educating the public, patrons make available everything from folk art to high-end city pieces. In terms of accessibility and distribution, alone, the significance of the patron's role is undeniable.

Tax havens benefitting patrons of the arts sometimes seem decadent. Seen in conjunction with the world's desire to safeguard her most valued treasures, the focus illuminates the more direct connection patron's have to the world's insatiable love of art.

Private Art Collections

Rembrandt van Rijn
"Portrait of Jan Six", 1654 
oil on canvas, 112 x 102 cm.
Six Foundation, Amsterdam
$150-250 million

"Conversion of Saint Paul", 1600 
oil on cypress wood, 237 x 189 cm.
Odescalchi Balbi Collection, Rome
$120-180 million

Rembrandt van Rijn
"Self-portrait", 1659 
oil on canvas, 52.7 x 42.7 cm.
Duke of Sutherland collection (on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland)
$100-150 million

Leonardo da Vinci (attributed to)
"Salvator Mundi", c-1500-1510 
oil on wood, 65.6 x 45.4 cm.
Private collection, New York
$80-150 million
Its owners are seeking $200 million

Hans Holbein the Younger
"The Madonna With the Family of Mayor Meyer (The Darmstadt Madonna)", c.1525-8
Oil on panel, 146.5 x 102 cm.
Reinhold Würth collection, Germany
$80-140 million
Sold for more than $70 million at a private sale in Germany in 2011

the list continues ... 

Well-known in the field of art is the fabled "El Dorado of the Arts" collection owned by the Wildenstein family, the prowess of Steve Cohen, the remarkable collection of Impressionist and Modern Art works owned by the Niarchos Family, the Duke of Sutherland's collection of old master paintings, Casa de Alba's (now property of Cayetana Fitz-James Stuard, 18th Duchess of Alba) envied works by Fra Angelico, Titian, Velázquez, El Greco, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Goyas, arguably the best collection of contemporary Art in the world owned by Eli Broad, David Geffen's collection coming in second to Broad's, Steve Wynn's spectacular private gallery at the Bellagio Casino, François Pinault's extraordinary collection, and Charles Saatchi's collection of future masterpieces. However, most patrons aspire to remain behind the scenes - letting the art speak for itself, and thus to those who have the privilege of appreciating it. 

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