RepublicBank 'Modern Medici' of Art; Houston Bank Commissioned Some Works, Bought Others, and Assembled a Collection Ranging from Louis-Philippe to Andy Warhol

By Bennett, Andrea | American Banker, March 15, 1984 | Go to article overview
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RepublicBank 'Modern Medici' of Art; Houston Bank Commissioned Some Works, Bought Others, and Assembled a Collection Ranging from Louis-Philippe to Andy Warhol


Bennett, Andrea, American Banker


CHICAGO -- The last king of France commissioned a painting in the collection; the ninth largest bank in Texas commissioned several others.

Banks' expropriation of the role once handled by royalty or private patrons has won them the title of the Modern Medicis of art. Like their Florentine predecessors (who earned their money in the financial industry), banks are heavily involved in art patronage.

"Today, corporate art collections are mainly in the hands of financial instituions," Lynne Sowder, president of the art consulting firm Sowder & Associates Inc., said recently.

One of the newest banks to assume the Medici mantle is RepublicBank Houston. In December, the $2 billion-asset bank unveiled a collection of 370 paintings, photographs, etchings, and engravings that spans four centuries of art. And it ranges from traditional pastoral scenes commissioned by the French King Louis-Philippe to a silkscreen by Andy Warhol. Like the Medici family before it, RepublicBank waws not content to just gather art but has commissioned works for its collection as well.

"We believe in a partnership between art and business," RepublicBank chairman Ronald Brown said. "Art is a vital force in contemporary society; it is intimately associated with the way we think, work, and live." Building Was Inspiration

The impetus for following in the Medici's footsteps was the construction of a Renaissance-inspired headquarters building into which the bank moved last October. An imposing 56-story structure containing vast, empty spaces, the building demanded something more than typical office reproductions.

"The idea of the building really got things going," said Ann Spillane, banking officer at RepublicBank and a member of the bank's art committee.

RepublicBank already owned about 35 paintings, purchased at local Houston galleries, that were "the beginning of a good collection," Ms. Spillane said. It hired Sowder & Associates as art advisors to add to that beginning.

Ms. Sowder suggested that art bough by the bank should irror the classical design of its new building. Every piece in the collection was to have the form and line of the classical style.

"We defined the art program according to our understanding of the bank, its goals, image, and perception of itself," Ms. Sowder said.

Ms. Sowder did the actual gathering of the art and presented works to the members of the bank's art committee, which included chairman Ronald Brown and bank president Thomas K Matthews II.

"We met in New york, where Ms. Sowder had gathered a body of work," Ms. Spillane said. "for every major space [the bank wanted to fill], they had two, or sometimes three, choices. Usually, we picked one of the choices." Divided by Rank

Among the spaces the bank wanted to fill were the reception areas on the 6th through 15th floors and the major common areas. The bank also decided to put art in the executives offices. In order to do this, it divided up a collection of photographs according to employee rank.

Bank officers got one of 100 commissioned photographs by Stuart Klipper depicting out-of-theway locations in Texas. Ms. Spillane said these are among the most popular works in the building.

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