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The rich list: More than 100 people join global list of billionaires

Many are major art collectors and philanthropists

New York. The latest Forbes magazine list of “the world’s richest people”, published last month in the US, reveals a sharp rise in the number of billionaires worldwide. In the past year, 102 people have joined the ranks of dollar billionaires, bringing the number to a record 793. Their total worth has risen by 18% to a total of $2.6 trillion.

For the 12th year running, Bill Gates tops the list with a fortune of $50 billion, followed once again by Warren Buffett, whose fortune has dropped by $2 billion this year to $42 billion. The richest man in the UK, Lakshmi Mittal, has fallen from third to fifth with a fortune of $23.5 billion.

Prominent art world names on the list include the luxury goods tycoon Bernard Arnault, worth $21.5 billion and the world’s seventh richest man. His arch rival, Christie’s owner François Pinault, is 74th on the list with $7 billion. Sotheby’s one-time controlling shareholder Alfred Taubman (right) was worth $1.1 billion last year but is some $120m richer this year since his recent sale of 3.9m shares in the auction house (p62). The Canadian publisher Kenneth Thomson ($19.6 billion) is ninth in the list: he has an art collection of about 3,000 pieces including Rubens’ Massacre of the Innocents which he bought for $77m in 2002. He also donated 2,000 works to the Art Gallery of Ontario the same year.

Alice Walton of the Wal-mart family ($15.7 billion), publisher Si Newhouse ($7.5 billion) and cosmetics mogul Leonard Lauder ($2.9 billion) lead a pack of wealthy US art collectors. Leonard’s brother, Ronald Lauder ($3 billion) bought his first piece, by Egon Schiele, with his barmitzvah money and went on to found New York’s Neue Galerie, having spent an estimated $450m on collecting art.

Steven Cohen ($2.5 billion), owner of the US hedge fund SAC, has a fortune which reflects the boom in hedge funds, where fortunes are being rapidly made. Mr Cohen has spent more than $300m on his collection, which includes Roy Lichtenstein’s Popeye, a Degas dancer, one of Pollock’s drip paintings (for $52m) a Monet Waterlilies, and Damien Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde bought from British collector Charles Saatchi. Casino tycoon Steve Wynn ($1.9 billion) is believed to have bought Turner’s View of the Giudecca at Christie’s New York in April for $35.8m (p55).

Although New York is home to more wealthy people than ever before, with the number of billionaires reaching 48, a lot of the big art collectors are in Los Angeles, home to Eli Broad ($5.9 billion) and David Geffen ($4.5 billion, right). The west coast is growing richer for “mere” millionaires as well, and last year Los Angeles county boasted over 250,000 millionaires.

While the largest number of billionaires (371) are in the US, there are 55 in Germany and 33 in Russia. The Russian stock exchange rose 108% last year and oil prices are surging. This produced seven new billionaire entrants. Few are major art collectors, except for Viktor Vekselberg ($10 billion) and Pyotr Aven ($3 billion, far right). In the Ukraine, one of three billionaires is Victor Pinchuk ($1.2 billion), who showed his contemporary art collection at the 2005 Venice Biennale.

Ten new billionaires have emerged from India, bringing that country’s total to 23, while China has eight, six more than in 2004.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'More than 100 people join global list of billionaires'