A Sense of Collecting is a series of masterclasses on the techniques, craftsmanship and attribution of great paintings, bronzes, porcelain, furniture, and armour. In this introduction, we look at why objects like the ones featured in the masterclasses are desirable. By clicking on the different sections, we find out why collectors have wanted to acquire them, and how their display and context affects the way we think about them.
So where does the instinct to collect come from and what prompts this passionate desire for possession? The answer seems to be that it is a primal instinct which is not confined to humans.
Mother substitutes explores how the collecting instinct develops at a very early age as objects such as dolls and teddy bears provide substitutes for the Mother’s love; how children form collections of shells and stones picked up on the beach and discover in the school playground how collecting can become a social activity.
Prestige is one of the reasons why people collect. In the eighteenth century rich young men travelled to Europe as part of the ¨Grand Tour,¨ acquiring great art collections. Their example was followed by the major American millionaire collectors of the early twentieth century in search of souvenirs and social status.
Historically religion and magic have played a central role in collecting. For example, the belief that the possession of relics conferred spiritual powers, healing properties, or were a means of salvation led to the building of the great medieval cathedrals.
The acquisition of power is another important motivation for collecting. For Renaissance rulers like the Emperor Rudolf II, a great collection was an important symbol of power and magnificence.
No one can cheat death, but collections can provide a sort of immortality, serving as sources of consolation and outlets for erotic desires.
The collecting of natural history specimens laid the foundations of modern science and helped men make sense of the world.
The connection between collecting and money goes back a long way. Some of the greatest European collectors, such as the Medici and the Rothschilds, have been bankers. The British Rail Pension Art Fund established by Sotheby's in 1974 paved the way for the recent growth of art investment funds and advisory services. So is art a good alternative investment? The art consultant in the video below argues that this is indeed true.
Stephen Calloway, dandy, aesthete, author and former curator at the V&A describes his lifelong passion for collecting and the pleasures of hunting for antiques in the stalls and antique shops around the Portobello Market…