Bloomberg’s Farah Nayeri does a quick profile of Robert Hiscox, Chairman of the art insurance firm, focusing on firm’s corporate collection, some of which has been lent to the newly-renovated Whitechapel Gallery:
The corporate collection was started by Robert Hiscox four decades ago, after his father Ralph’s death, at a time when City office walls were covered with nothing but Thames River views. Partners were initially baffled at the idea of buying freshly painted works, which is exactly what the new chairman did.
“It was great fun when we were a private company, because we could buy what we liked,” he remembers. Art was inexpensive in the 1970s and 1980s, so the collection grew to include Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon.
By 1993, when the company was listed, sands shifted. “We were short of capital, and some analyst wrote that Robert Hiscox should buy paintings for his home and not for the company,” says the chairman, still kicking himself “because we missed out on the most outstanding period of growth in time.”
The top works were auctioned in December 1998 at Sotheby’s, raising 2.15 million pounds — including 914,500 pounds for a Freud portrait of Frank Auerbach. “It really hurt — really painful,” Hiscox says with a grimace. “Probably one of the most unhappy 40 minutes of my life.”
Today, Hiscox’s art buying is “prudent.” With advice from 37-year-old consultant curator Elliot McDonald, the chairman opts for works by young contemporary artists that are “cheap” — a few thousand pounds each. The most he paid in the last five years was 75,000 pounds for a Cecily Brown canvas, which hangs in the offices along with works by Gavin Turk, Keith Coventry and Gregory Crewdson.
Two years ago, at London’s Frieze Art Fair, “they wouldn’t talk to you unless you were a curator,” Hiscox recalls. “Last year, they talked to you. Next year, I hope they’ll be on their bloody knees.”
Hiscox, a father of five, personally owns so many [John] Virtue works that he’s turned a farm building of his country home in Wiltshire, southern England, into a warehouse. He buys abstract sculptures for his garden, and also owns a London apartment.