4 Greatest Art Collectors of the past

Personalities that shaped the world of art we live in today

Marina Viatkina
5 min readFeb 20, 2019

Do you agree that collecting art means being a patron of arts in some sense?

Those individuals who we were buying art in pursue of personal endeavours did actually support not just the artists they collected but the development of art history in general.

Here is a brief overview of the four famous art collectors of the past that are up in the spotlight back again playing key roles in The Great Collector board game.

Let me start with a quick note why did I pick up these four historic figures.

Well, the collections they amassed were arguably the greatest painting collections ever assembled by individuals. Three of them were Their Royal Highnesses — Holy Roman Emperor Kaiser Rudolf II, King Charles I of England, Empress Catherine the Great of Russia. No wonder, the times they were living in and resources that possessed gave them the exclusive opportunity to assemble such big collections of art. And our forth hero was a pure visionary spirit with entrepreneurial background — Sergei Shchukin, the biggest patron of Impressionist art.

There were a few other notable collectors who made their mark in the history of art — let’s hope we’ll be able to include them in The Great Collector game spin-off edition and bring contemporary public’s attention to their achievements as well.

Kaiser Rudolf II


Holy Roman Emperor, Kaiser Rudolf II is known as the first monarch to assemble a really legendary collection of arts and curiosities in his beautiful Prague Castle.

His biggest passion in visual arts were his contemporary artists of Late Renaissance period called Mannerists — Parmigianino, Veronese, Arcimboldo and others were the favourites of the Royal collector. Worldwide known masterpieces of Northern Renaissance by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Albrecht Dürer are also included in The Great Collector game set.

As it often happens, Rudolf II collection was gradually dispersed across all Europe after his death. Some pieces ended up in Vienna, some were looted by Swedish troops in mid 17th century, others were sold to minor collectors and their traces were lost.

King Charles I


King Charles I of England, living in the first half of 17th century, could be called the grandfather of art collecting.

Inspired by his visit to Spanish court he started his art collecting journey by acquiring the greatest Italian collection existed to date and managed to bring it to another level.

Anthony van Dyck, Titian, Holbein, Caravaggio along with iconic stars of High Renaissance — Raphael and Leonardo Da Vinci — these and many other artworks that were amassed by Charles I during his reign are now part of The Great Collector.

Not a very popular monarch he kept his passion for collecting art until the last days and set this trend in his country for centuries to come.

Unfortunately, after his death, English Parliament got rid of this finest collection and it is now scattered across the globe.

Charles I set a very high standard with his collection. Up until now to find a piece from his former collection is considered to bring good luck to that collector — “porta fortuna”!

Empress Catherine the Great


Empress Catherine the Great of Russia was one of the Great Art Collectors whose fame went far beyond her times and her country.

She ruled Russian Empire for a long period in the second half of 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment, and amassed a truly spectacular collection of art that marked the launch of the world-famous Hermitage Museum in Saint-Petersburg.

For The Great Collector game we selected masterpieces from her collection representing Rococo with famous works by Antoine Watteau, Dutch Golden Age starring Rembrandt himself, Baroque and High Renaissance art styles with Rubens and Raphael.

Many paintings left Hermitage museum forever at the times of Russian Revolution — Bolsheviks were selling the Royal treasures abroad to boost the coffers of the new socialist state. Irreplaceable loss to museum, though, alas, quite a common destiny for all collections after the death of their owners.

Sergei Shchukin


Sergei Shchukin comes from a dynasty of famous Moscow merchants where everyone seemed to be born with a taste to collecting art.

Sergei was no exception. His unique vision and personal taste made him buy works of his contemporary impressionists and then post-impressionists at the times when no museum could even think of ever accepting their art.

He always wanted his collection to become public and planned to leave his legacy to the state art museum.

Alas, his unbeatable collection of masterpieces by Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir and others was confiscated after Russian Revolution and then split between different museums.

On having briefly outlined the life trajectories of these great collections and their collectors I have a bitter sweet taste in my mouth — so many more brilliant artists, artworks, collectors are still buried in obscurity.

Our goal with The Great Collector board game is to bring them back to life and attract more interest and curious public to the exciting turns of art history and its heroes and heroines.

We invite you to create new chapter of art history together! Are you in?



Marina Viatkina

Art | History Writer & Collecting Advisor → marinaviatkina.com | Founder of Smart Art — Art History Escape app → getsmartart.com