I find the idea of art patrons fascinating. There are many different reasons for becoming a patron of the arts: cultural capital, social recognition, tax breaks, or most importantly a deep love of art and a desire to do your part to promote and enhance the arts as a whole. The power of a wealthy patron to shape and mould the arts is incredible. With enough prestige a patron can take an unknown artist and make them famous. By buying their works they make other collectors and curators aware of the artist, boosting the value of their works, and therefore making money for the artist and for the patron. By paying stipends to artists a patron gives the opportunity for them to focus wholly on their work, and help them to embark on more ambitious projects than they would otherwise have had the means to attempt.
Moya Dyring, Sunday, c.1934
We can see the influence of powerful patrons throughout history, from the Medici’s to Charles Saatchi. Sometimes art patronage can have a bad name, after all the word patron has overtones of superiority. Melbourne art supporters John and Sunday Reed refused the title of art patrons. Their ongoing support and promotion of Australian artists including Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker and Mirka Mora helped to shape the development of Modern Art in Australia, but they went beyond giving just monetary assistance. They opened up these artists to a creative circle where they could participate in lively discussion revolving around new ideas in art, life, politics, all over afternoon tea. Some of the artists even lived with them for periods of time, and during the war their home at Heide was a veritable haven where their guests exchanged a fews hours hard work in the vegetable garden for a delicious home cooked meal.
Sunday, Sweeney and John Reed, 1953
Peggy Guggenheim and Sunday Reed have many things in common, their love of art and love being just the start of it. Both passionate, powerful women, they were muses and supporters of the artists they loved. Each in their way shaped the future of art. With such a well known last name, Peggy Guggenheim was an artistic force to be reckoned with. She was a patron to many Surrealist, Dada and Abstract artists, and lover to almost as many. These artists included Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp, and authors such as Samuel Beckett and Andre Breton. She played an important role in the development of Jackson Pollock’s career, paying him a salary so that he could devote his time solely to his paintings. Her fascinating life has been recorded as an autobiography and in several biographies, and has been the subject of a recent documentary Peggy Guggenheim – Art Addict which has been touring film festivals across the world including Melbourne International Film Festival. In her autobiography Peggy unleashes all of her passionate vitality onto the page. She leaves nothing back, embracing all of her achievements and failures, coming clean and confiding in you, it feels as if this is a very personal conversation that she has reserved for you alone.
Max Ernst, The Antipope, 1941-1942
The influence of these wonderful women on the development of art cannot be underestimated. But they were not only influential in their support of the arts, but also through their avant-garde approach to life, challenging societal norms and the accepted role of women. Through their support, love, generosity and intelligence they provoked the artists they were involved to achieve more, innovate, push the boundaries and change the face of art forever.
If you are curious to learn more about Sunday and Peggy:
Peggy Guggenheim, Out of this Century, Confessions of an Art Addict, 1979.
Janine Burke, The Heart Garden: Sunday Reed and Heide, 2005.
If you, like me, feel inspired and want to become an art patron yourself:
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Gone with the Windfall.”