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Art for art’s sake

Banks have great treasures behind their marble veneers, as demonstrated by their art collections.

UBS own around 40,000 art objects, including works by artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, and JP Morgan Chase is known for having a significant collection, established 50 years ago by David Rockefeller.

It was also notable that, as Lehman Brothers assets were sold off, they included a major collection of art works from Roy Lichtenstein to Damien Hirst.

The value of such collections is unfathomable, having been built up over so many years, so I was particularly intrigued to pick up a book from Standard Chartered at the Eurofinance conference last week called: “Banking on People: a Visual Expression of the Standard Chartered Culture”.

Banking on people

Front Cover artwork: Miao Girl with Silver Necklace by Shen Ming Cun

The book is all about the artworks that adorn Standard Chartered’s Head Office at One Basinghall Avenue, London


The art hangs in their hallways and foyers for all to see, and most of it is modern portraits.


Painting: Girl reading on a Bench, by Michele Del Campo

The book tells the story of how previous CEO’s and Chairmen collected a lot of old world art.  For example, Sir Patrick Gillam, Chairman from 1993 to 2003, bought a piece of art by Edward Lear in 2000 to celebrate the opening of StanChart in Lebanon.

Guess what he bought?

A piece by Edward Lear called A distant view of Beirut, with Mount Lebanon above from 1866.

Edward Lear

The thing about such art is that it’s expensive to buy – most Edward Lear landscapes sell for over $20,000 a piece – and so when Sir Patrick was succeeded by Mervyn Davies, a new approach was taken based upon buying new works of art that reflected the culture and history of the bank.

The theme is therefore people.


Zhang Ziyi, by Eleanor Reed

Many of the paintings have been sourced from the UK and the BP Portrait Awards, but more recently has diversified to allow paintings to be hung acorss the bank’s 1600 global offices.

How the decisions are made is really interesting.

Peter Sands the CEO and David Stileman, CEO of Standard Chartered Americas, are the key decision makers.

In the book, David is quoted as saying:

“Tom (Tempest-Radford, Curator) sends me images and I look at them on my iPhone and decide at once.  It sounds awful but in fact looking at something on a small screen gives you a good sense of its visual impact.  If a picture works on an iPhone, it is probably going to be able to make an impact in a busy office space.”


IPhone art

There are over 100 artworks in the book by artists ranging from Corinne Dalle-Ore to Li Yueling, Shen Han Wu to Jane Lewis and more.

Here are just a few:

Harriet White's Bob (left); and Josie McCoy's Cate Blanchett 


Two Sean Henry sculptures:



The Dreamer, by Valery Koroshilov:


p.s. on bank-related art and history matters, you may remember that a wee while ago, I visited HSBC’s archives in the East End of London, a massive warehouse of history.



About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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  • Bob McDowall

    Art is an excellent long term investment. but transaction costs are high and the market has historically been less liquid!The art market does respond to trends wealth and asset allocation.From personal experince even discerning purchase of contemporary art can bring gains of 1000% over a 10 year period.
    Perhpas, banks are shrewder long term investors (in art) than they are shor-term investors in financial assets?

  • Vikram Dayal

    Actually, its not just banks but all major corporates that collect pieces of art. Who knows the piece of painting hanging in your corridor might someday be worth millions!