Art collecting in the modern sense can be said to have originated during the period of the Renaissance in Italy, with the emergence on the one hand of individual artists from the anonymity of the Middle Ages, and on the other of families and individuals of wealth who eagerly sought to patronize and collect their work. Italian Jews of the Renaissance period inevitably patronized the arts to some degree, for their houses were furnished and decorated in much the same way as those of their gentile neighbors of the same social class. Jews at this time were active as art dealers as well, particularly as jewelers who bought and sold goldsmiths' work and as dealers in secondhand goods. In the 16th century Cosimo de' Medici, grand duke of Tuscany, bought antiques from Jewish merchants in Venice, while a few decades later David de' Cervi of Rome procured works of art for the dukes of Mantua. The first Jew known to have dealt specifically in paintings was also an Italian, the artist and art expert Jacob Carpi, who was in business in Amsterdam in the middle of the 18th century.
Here and there individual Jews continued to buy and sell objects of art for the next two centuries, but it is not until the early 19th century that one can begin to speak of Jewish art dealers and collectors in the proper sense of the word. In Fritz Lugt's comprehensive three-volume corpus (1938–64), which lists all public sales of art from 1600 on, it is only in the second quarter of the 19th century that the name of *Rothschild is first encountered in connection with an auction at Christie's in London; from this date on, however, art collecting cannot be thought of in England, France, and Germany, without reference to this great banking family. At approximately the same time, there developed other dynasties of Jewish collectors who often started out as bankers.
Among the many prominent 19th-century European collectors were Eduard Huldschinsky and James *Simon in Berlin (the latter's donations to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, including the famous bust of Nefertiti, greatly enriched that collection); Georg Arnhold (1859–1926) in Dresden, whose son Hans followed him as a patron and collector of the arts; and Ludwig *Mond and Henry Oppenheimer (1859–1932) in England. Mond's collection of Italian paintings from the 15th to the 18th centuries went to the National Gallery in London; Oppenheimer specialized in applied and graphic arts. At the same time, the *Camondo Collection in Paris and the Franchetti Collection in Venice were being built up.
One of the most important modern personalities in international art collecting and dealing was Joseph *Duveen , who became the art consultant of a number of well-known Americans, such as J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Benjamin *Altman . Duveen achieved his reputation with the help of the art historian, connoisseur, and collector Bernard *Berenson , who advised him, especially on Italian art, from 1907 to 1936. Following Duveen's death in 1939, the House of *Wildenstein assumed the leading position in international art dealing.
After World War I the works of the impressionists and postimpressionists were especially collected and dealt in by Jews. The centers of this activity were Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Paris, and London, although here interest in the Renaissance and Baroque periods continued. As a result of Jewish emigration from Europe following the Nazi rise to power, many valuable collections reached the United States, among them those of Jacob *Goldschmidt , whose treasures were auctioned after his death in 1955, and of Justin Thannhauser, who donated the greater part of his paintings to the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where they hang in a separate wing.
Among native Americans, Lessing *Rosenwald of Philadelphia collected one of the world's greatest collections of graphic arts. He presented the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., with some 25,000 drawings and etchings. The Cone Collection in Baltimore, which offers an excellent cross section of modern French art, was begun shortly after the turn of the century by the sisters Claribel and Etta *Cone , who acquired their paintings and drawings, particularly the work of Henri Matisse, through their close friendship with Leo and Gertrude *Stein . Instrumental in assembling the large collection of the *Guggenheim family were Solomon R. Guggenheim (d. 1949), whose treasures are housed in the museum in New York named after him, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and Peggy G. Guggenheim, whose palazzo in Venice contains many foremost works of surrealism and who was a great collector and friend of modern artists ever since she opened her first gallery in London in 1919. Also deserving of mention are the collections of Otto H. *Kahn , Michael Friedsam, and the Altman, *Lehmann , and *Blumenthal families.
Billy *Rose , the theatrical producer, gave his collection of modern sculpture to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where it is exhibited in a special garden that bears his name. The industrialist Joseph H. *Hirshhorn donated his collection of about 4,000 paintings and 1,600 sculptures to the nation, and it is on permanent public exhibit in Washington, D.C. Helena *Rubinstein , founder of the cosmetic enterprise, filled her homes with works of art and applied art and in Tel Aviv she built the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion. Norton Simon, California industrialist, attracted the attention of the international art market when he acquired Rembrandt's "Titus" at an auction in London (1965) and a Rembrandt self-portrait for more than $1,000,000 (1969).
One of the most remarkable art collections, that of Robert von Hirsch of impressionist and modern drawings and watercolors, was dispersed by public auction held in London, the proceeds of which were approximately $35 million. Von Hirsch, a German-born leather merchant, who died in Basel, Switzerland in November 1977 at the age of 94, accumulated his collection over a period of 70 years. It consisted of 608 articles, including superlative works of Cezanne, Van Gogh and Georges Seurat, and pieces of Meissen porcelain.
A.B. Saarinen, Proud Possessors (1958); M. Rheims, La vie étrange des objets (1959) (= Art on the Market, 1961); P. Cabanne, Great Collectors (1963); S. Kaznelson (ed.), Juden im deutschen Kulturbereich (1962), 120–30; F. Lugt, Repertoire des catalogues des ventes publiques, 3 vols. (1938–46).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.