money, art


In the Gilded Age, many of the banks that have recently played important and devastating roles in our financial life—Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Lehman Brothers—were guided by men who had a passion for painting. J. P. Morgan’s collection was legendary. Paul Sachs, an early partner at the family firm, left banking to become a specialist in Italian Renaissance art, and to found the program in curatorial studies at Harvard. Robert Lehman and his father, Philip Lehman, each of whom ran Lehman Brothers, together assembled one of the great collections of Florentine and Sienese art outside Italy. Even the bank established to bail these other banks out, the Federal Reserve, had at its inception Paul Warburg. Warburg, often referred to as the “father” of the Federal Reserve, was the brother of Aby Warburg, one of the greatest scholars of the Italian Renaissance. In much the same way that aptitudes for math and music seem to descend together in families, so do there seem to be lineages for those gifted in the representation of value: the bankers and the painters. Not only did Gilded Age bankers study and collect art, their financial inventions were structurally quite like those of painters working at the same time. In particular, the financiers, as was true of Cézanne and his followers among the cubists, were interested in new representations of the future.

more from Rachel Cohen at The Believer here.