Who are the biggest art collectors in the world?

N’Gunu Tiny is CEO and Chairman of Emerald Group, an international investment company with a focus on financial inclusion in the developing world.

It’s often assumed that the world’s most staggeringly expensive art collections are almost exclusively in the hands of Royal families and aristocrats.

But from the time of the Medici’s in the 15th century, the true art collection narrative is linked inextricably with commerce, business leaders and merchants.

Art collectors come from business, royalty and uber wealthy backgrounds

By the 17th century, art was in the hands of the burgeoning merchant class in the Netherlands. Since they began collecting the likes of van Goyen and Jan Steen, the market has continued to grow.

Today, major art collectors include forward-looking multinational banks, Middle Eastern royal families using their oil money to invest in art and occasionally a member of European nobility.

For example, the Prince of Liechtenstein is probably one of the few members of European monarchies to play a serious role in art investment.

For the last 200 years, industrialists and HNWI have been ostentatiously collecting wealth through art galleries and collections. From Rockefeller and Carnegie and other US industrial leaders to diamond speculators in Europe, art has been firmly in the hands of the richest for a long time.

Art investment is symbolic of wealth and success, and it broadcasts this to the world.

6 of the biggest art collectors in the world right now

Roman Abramovich

Probably the most famous representative of the Russian oligarchy, Abramovich is a billionaire politician and businessman. He owns private investment firm Millhouse LLC and is best known as the owner of Chelsea Football Club in the UK.

Worth an estimated $14.2 billion, Abramovich’s fortune belies his humble beginnings in Lithuania. A meteoric rise through the business world saw him achieve part ownership of oil company Sibneft by the time he was 30.

A close friend of Putin, Abramovich is also a major investor in the international art scene. Along with his partner Dasha Zhukova, Abramovich focuses on Russian artists, such as Ilya Kabakov. He also has many major artists in his collection, such as Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon.

Zhukova herself is head of the Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture and is more than likely a significant influence on the art that Abramovich choose to collect.

Francois Pinault

French billionaire businessman Pinault is best known as the Kering Group of luxury brands founder. He owns (or has owned) everything from Alexander McQueen to Chateau Latour and Converse to Gucci. And he is worth $49.6 billion.

Pinault also owns Christie’s, which is probably the most famous auction house in the world. A major and hugely influential art collector, Pinault has created one of the world’s most impressive and valuable art collections. These include works by Damian Hirst and many more contemporary and classic artists.

Bernard Arnault

Arnault is France’s richest man with a fortune of $195.3 billion. He is a businessman, investor and, of course, an art collector.

As well as being the richest person in France, Arnault is the third richest person in the world (as of 19 September 2021). He is chairman and CEO of LVMH (Moet Hennessey – Louis Vuitton) luxury goods and in 1999 acquired Phillips de Pury art auction house. This is a direct competitor of Christie’s.

Arnault’s art collection includes works by Andy Warhol, Henry Moore and Pablo Picasso, and he has also turned LVMH into one of the world’s biggest patron of the arts.

Damian Hirst

While his wealth isn’t anywhere near those listed above, Hirt’s fortune is was estimated at $384 million in the Sunday Times Rich List 2020. This makes him the world’s wealthiest living artist.

One of the biggest names to emerge from the Young British Artists (YBA) movement, Hirst is instantly recognisable. While his art tends to divide opinions, there’s no denying it has the power to shock.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about Hirst is his management of the industry itself. He has transformed the value and meaning of contemporary British art and has a major collection of its own. 

Microsoft

The first corporate entity on this list, Microsoft has a collection of more than 5,000 works of art displayed across 180 separate locations. Once again, the collection is geared towards contemporary art from worldwide. According to the company, it is displayed for: “the enjoyment of Microsoft employees, their guests and Microsoft customers.”

Microsoft has an annual turnover of around $86 billion, and while it only spends a small percentage of this on art every year, it still represents a major collection.

As with many corporate forays into art, Microsoft employs a curator who focuses on acquiring works from mostly emerging and mid-level contemporary artists.

The Al Nahyan Family

The Al Nahyan family has ruled Abu Dhabi since 1793. Currently, the family is worth around $150 billion, largely due to the natural resources held in Abu Dhabi. For example, while the city only has a population of 921,000, it holds 9% of the global oil reserves and just under 5% of the natural gas reserves.

The family was also the driving force behind the 2007 deal agreed with Abu Dhabi and the French Government to launch a Louvre Abu Dhabi museum. The deal allows the museum to use the Louvre name until 2037. It has 86,000 square feet of gallery space and is the biggest art museum on the Arabian Peninsula.

Permanent collections at the museum include art from several French museums, including Versailles, the Musee d’Orsay and the Paris Louvre.

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