Painting does not replace religion, but almost.

Anonymous Collector C46

Art is an intermediate state between heaven and earth. Absolute Beauty is God. Through art we glimpse a portion of that beauty. There is something ecstatic in it.

Anonymous Collector C29

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“Pius VII Forming the Collection of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana,” Domenico De Angelis (1852-1904)

Both quotations occur in the doctoral dissertation of French sociologist Raymonde Moulin, published in 1967 as Le marché de la peinture en France. An abridged translation appeared in English in 1987 under the title The French Art Market: A Sociological View. The mechanics of the market have changed dramatically since then. At the time Moulin was writing, the market’s center of gravity had already shifted from Paris to New York. Today it is shifting again, eastward to such places as Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dubai, and, along with the HSBC Golf Championship, Abu Dhabi. Nevertheless, the core of Moulin’s landmark study remains remarkably current.

She turned a sharp eye on the typology of collectors. Each specimen group, from the packrat, the social-climbing prestige buyer, to the scholar-collector and the speculative one is subject to a witty and pithy inquest. Excepting, perhaps, the purely speculative, all types can find blameless justification for the mania to amass in metaphysics. That presumed glimmer of transcendence runs a sacral patina over an elite recreation. Moulin wrote: “Art is a form of, or substitute for, sacred things, and collectors use it to slake their thirst for the absolute.”

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“Pius VII Collects Etruscan Vases,” Domenico De Angelis. From the collection of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana

From that alone we might expect our shepherds, those consecrated few who know a little something about the Absolute, to be immune to infection by ostentatious collecting and/or commissioning bugs. Uncreated, C29?s Absolute Beauty can be neither commissioned, purchased, nor possessed. Yet “the lasting pleasure of absolute possession” remains the drive behind every collector, whether a cardinal or a retail baron.

Before more absolutes pile up, let us leave the word to Collector C60:

Having a painting in your home is quite different from looking at it elsewhere. It’s the same way with women. Marriage is one thing, having a woman on Saturday night is another. The problem is always one of sole possession.

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