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Connoisseur collectors: A story of ten approaches to acquiring art

From Liechtenstein to Lisbon, these collectors discuss their interests and methods

Prince Hans-Adam II

Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Collects: Old Masters

• Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein is a major player in the pre-20th-century market. He has spent tens of millions of euros bolstering his family collection of Old Master paintings (1,700 works by artists including Raphael and Rembrandt), Italian 16th-century bronzes and Biedermeier furniture.

In 2010, the prince paid £10m for a Pierino da Vinci sculpted relief (Ugolino Imprisoned with his Sons, 1549), which he bought from the Chatsworth House Trust in Derbyshire in the UK. Last year, he bought Martino Rota’s Portrait of Emperor Rudolf II, around 1580, from Dorotheum auction house in Vienna (€260,300; est €50,000-€70,000). “His choices depend on developments and offerings on the market,” says Alexandra Hanzl, the curator of the princely collections. The Liechtenstein Museum, housed at Vienna’s Summer Palace, closed to the public in January last year though highlights of the collection can now be seen by appointment. The prince’s vast personal wealth, estimated by Forbes at $3.5bn, has grown through the family-owned LGT Group, which is the largest private bank in Liechtenstein. Other works of art are kept in the prince’s private castle in Vaduz.

Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo

Massachusetts

Collect: Dutch and Flemish 17th-century paintings

• Eijk van Otterloo and his wife Rose-Marie have assembled one of the most focused groups of Dutch and Flemish 17th-century paintings in the world. Last year at Tefaf Maastricht the couple bought a Rubens, The Crucifixion, around 1618, from the London-based dealer Colnaghi. Until the end of last month the work was on loan to the Currier Museum in Manchester, New Hampshire, along with four other works from the Van Otterloo collection, including The Apulian Shepherd, 1598, by Joachim Wtewael and The Cardplayers, around 1660, by Jan Steen.

In the late 1990s, the couple adopted a specific collecting strategy, seeking pictures that illustrated different aspects of common Dutch genres such as still-lifes, landscapes, domestic scenes, church interiors and seascapes. They aimed only to buy the top works by any particular artist, “not the one he did on a Monday with a hangover”, says Rose-Marie van Otterloo. The 70-strong collection is thought to be worth at least $200m. Eijk van Otterloo is the co-founder of Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Co, an investment firm established in 1977.

George and Ilona Kremer

Amsterdam, Marbella and Dallas

Collect: Dutch 17th-century art

• “We never buy as an investment. [That] detracts from the important values. We only buy for the collection, to make [it] as representative of Dutch 17th-century art as possible,” says George Kremer who, with his wife Ilona, has been acquiring Dutch and Flemish Old Masters since 1995. The collection now includes 64 examples, along with more than 40 works by French artists dating from the 19th century and early 20th century. Key works include Pieter de Hooch’s Man Reading a Letter to a Woman, around 1674, Rembrandt’s striking Bust of an Old Man with Turban, around 1627, and Portrait of a Man, around 1637, by the Antwerp-born artist Frans Hals. The Kremers mainly buy at auction and through dealers. “If we buy two to three really good paintings a year we are happy,” George Kremer says. The Kremer collection is owned and managed by Aetas Aurea Holding, a non-profit organisation founded by the couple. George Kremer made his fortune in oil trading and real estate.

Willem Baron van Dedem

London

Collects: Old Masters

• Willem Baron van Dedem, the president of the board of Tefaf Maastricht, bought his first Old Master in 1963. “One starts with one picture for decoration and it is only much later that one can say that the concept of a collection starts entering one’s brain,” he says. “That picture was by Adriaen Verdoel, a relatively unknown Rembrandt pupil. It cost me the princely sum of 3,500 [Dutch] guilders.” The collection now includes 80 paintings, and a selection of drawings, etchings and watercolours. He found his latest acquisition, a still-life by the 17th-century Flemish painter Clara Peeters, at Tefaf last year. “I follow the market in order to balance quality and price,” he says, telling Apollo magazine: “You know you’re a real collector when you buy a painting and have no room to hang it.”

Reinhold Würth

Künzelsau, Germany

Collects: Old Masters, Medieval,

20th-century

• The German industrialist billionaire Reinhold Würth owns more than 15,000 works. While many of them date from the 20th century, Würth is increasingly making his presence felt in the Old Masters market. In July 2011, he acquired the most important German Old Master to come to market since the Second World War: Holbein the Younger’s oil painting, Darmstadt Madonna, 1525-28, which was sold privately by Donatus, Prince of Hesse, to Würth for a sum reportedly between €50m and €60m.

Würth’s collection of late Medieval art, meanwhile, was acquired in 2003 from the Fürstenberg family in Donaueschingen. It includes several works by Cranach the Elder such as the artist’s famous Familie der Naturmenschen [Family of Wildmen], 1530, and his portraits of Martin Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora, both after 1528. Würth transformed his father’s wholesale screw business into a global company and

is now worth $5.2bn, according

to Forbes.

Ronald Meuleman

Near Amsterdam

Collects: 18th-century silverware

• Ronald Meuleman, an entrepreneur and silver collector based near Amsterdam, has come a long way in his collecting habits. His grandmother encouraged him to start collecting silver around 1988 and he subsequently acquired an antique silver sugar caster of 1795. In 1998, he turned down the chance to buy an identical sugar caster. “In 2003, the very same caster was offered at Tefaf Maastricht by [the Hague-based dealer] A. Aardewerk Antiquair Juwelier. I learned that antique Dutch sugar casters were always made in pairs, and that the value of the pair was much higher than twice the value of the single one. We have since collected, but only Dutch silver of the Louis XVI period (1770-90),” he says. Among the top items in the collection are a pair of antique silver butter dishes made in Amsterdam in 1780 by Jan Hendrik Middelhuysen and a wine jug, 1787, made by Johannes Schiotling.

Christian Levett

London

Collects: antiquities

• Levett, who set up the world’s largest commodity hedge fund (the London-based Clive Capital) in 2007, made his first foray into the antiquities market in 2003. “The first items I bought were an ancient Greek battle helmet and an Egyptian cartonnage mask, both for about £6,000. It blew my mind that I could buy ancient art at that price,” he says. He then “started to go ballistic”, buying works at auction from the collection of the late antique weaponry specialist Axel Guttmann in 2004 and 2005.

A selection of works from his collection of 715 antiquities, as well as paintings by artists including Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall and Andy Warhol are on show in Levett’s Museum of Classical Art in Mougins, near Cannes. “I only buy something if I think I am paying a reasonable market price. I’ve passed on the two most important [ancient] helmets to hit the market in recent years because I felt the prices went too high,” he says. Levett bought the Crowe Hall urn, dating to the first century, for “considerably less than €1m” at Tefaf in 2011 (previously bought by a European dealer for £445,250 at Christie’s London in December 2010).

Margaret and John Trail

Western Australia

Collect: 19th-century sculpture

• Margaret and John Trail have specialised in 19th-century art since 1962, their first acquisition being Lioness of Algeria, 1860, by the French sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye, who primarily depicted animals. Their latest acquisition, also by Barye, is Panther Attacking a Stag, 1857 (the sculptor’s market is robust with a record auction price of €756,750, including buyer’s premium, for the bronze work Eléphant, 1832, achieved at Sotheby’s Paris in 2011). “The main criteria is aesthetic value and quality and the two do not always go hand in hand,” John Trail says. Asked if he sets aside an annual amount set for acquisitions, he says: “The budget is always exceeded.”

Melinda and Paul Sullivan

West Hartford, Connecticut

Collect: 18th-century ceramics

• Melinda and Paul Sullivan have built up the largest private collection of Du Paquier porcelain in the world (produced between 1718 and 1744 in Vienna). According to the US magazine Antiques, in 1994 the Sullivans acquired numerous Du Paquier pieces from the collection of Ruth Blumka, the late New York dealer in Medieval art, through the Viennese dealer Elisabeth Sturm-Bednarczyk. The couple then purchased around 160 items between 1995 and 2007. “Our timing was propitious. We were fortuitous in our ability to capture the market—and we did so with a vengeance,” Melinda Sullivan said. They loaned 50 works for the exhibition “Imperial Privilege: Vienna Porcelain of Du Paquier, 1718-44”, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2009. Paul Sullivan is a retired clinical endocrinologist.

Francisco Capelo

Lisbon

Collects: early Chinese art

• The Portuguese

collector Francisco Capelo is nothing if not clear-sighted about how and why he collects across numerous sectors, from contemporary design to Modern art. “I don’t look for bargains; there is always a price for quality,” Capelo says.

Since 2000, he has amassed one of Europe’s finest collections of pre-14th-century Chinese ceramics, comprising around 70 pieces. In 2000, he bought his first piece from the London-based dealer Priestley & Ferraro: a ten­th-century, bronze-mounted, white stoneware ewer. In 2010, he sold ten pieces at Sotheby’s London, including a black-glazed foliate dish of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127), which went for £361,250 including premium (est £300,000-£500,000).

Last year, he bought two works: a Junyao bowl (Jin dynasty, 1115-1234) and a Yueyao bowl (Tang dynasty, 618-906), but now feels the collection is complete: “There is always a finishing point.” Capelo, a former investment banker, has also built a collection of Southeast Asian ceramics, which now numbers around 300 works.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Connoisseur collectors'