The beauty makers

09 May 2023

Inspired series

Masterpiece 2022. Artworld gossip, multi-million pound whispered deals, the popping of corks and clinking of champagne glasses, and, hang on, is that hammering?  

In a pioneering move at London’s eminent art and antiques fair, renowned sculpture gallery Sladmore decided to recreate the studio of Nic Fiddian-Green. As esteemed guests wandered by, they found the sculptor busy at work in the creation of one of his iconic beaten copper horse heads. And while many punters stopped to look and chat, more took the one-off opportunity (masterminded by Sladmore’s own Gerry Farrell) to pick up a hammer and join in with the creative process.  

Please note: Barclays Private Bank does not endorse any of the companies or individuals referenced in this article.

Investing in creativity 

With the global art market generating almost $68 billion in 20221, investing in art has long been a popular pursuit of private wealth holders. But while the value of Old Master, twentieth-century and contemporary art has remained strong on the secondary market for the last thirty years, commissioning new art – from oils on canvas to NFTs – is on the rise.  

“Patronage in the arts is definitely back on the up,” Sladmore director Edward Horswell tells us. But the reasons for this have changed. In the Renaissance, commissioning art was often used as a means to display one’s prestige, with influential male patrons showing off their taste and sophistication by commissioning portraits like Holbein’s Ambassadors. Others might have had themselves depicted in the most fashionable clothing of their day (and often sporting – notably in Parmigianino’s Portrait of Pedro Maria Rossi di San Secondo – a questionably large codpiece).  

Today, however, something far more interesting is at play. Admittedly, the patron doesn’t always get to take up the hammer and chisel, but commissioning contemporary art can be a genuinely creative process (and a lucrative one, too – not only did the Sladmore gallery win the best stand award at Masterpiece, but millions of pounds worth of sales soon followed).  

A burgeoning desire for artisanal skill 

In today’s fast-paced and interconnected world, where pretty much anything we desire can be acquired with the tap of a finger, artisanally made products are coming into their own. The artworld is seeing a drive towards conscientious consumerism; individual artistic expression over mass-production. And this is where commissions come in.  

Working with an artist from the outset supports an industry where artisanal skill and small-scale ethical production are highly valued, and allows the creation of one-of-a-kind pieces. This was certainly true for the anonymous buyer from Shanghai who, at the dawn of the pandemic, commissioned bespoke jewellery company Yvel to make them a $1.5 million diamond studded facemask2.  

Changing the course of art history 

But while commissioning art can be a creative process, the financial side of it is just as important. In 1943, the vivacious collector Peggy Guggenheim was introduced to a broke and unsuccessful artist who was days away from giving up entirely. Overwhelmed by the sheer power of his work, Peggy convinced him to keep painting by offering him a monthly stipend. The artist’s name was Jackson Pollock.3  

That anecdote is testament to the belief that a good relationship between artist and patron is vital. As Sarah Howgate, Senior Curator at the National Portrait Gallery, advises, “Even if you love an artist’s work, there must be chemistry when you meet them or it’s not going to work – it’s such an intimate thing.”4

And it’s this intimacy that makes a commissioned portrait the ultimate love gift. From Antonio Canova’s risqué sculpture of Pauline Borghese as Venus, to Andy Warhol’s screen printed portrait commissions, gifting a portrait has long been a powerful way to show you care. “A portrait is a more considered, deeper, layered observation of who someone really is”5, says award-winning portrait artist Tom Croft. And skilled portrait painters, the gallerist Philip Mould tells us, “Can bring a quality of insight, a psychological validity and nuance to the painted face that no photograph – especially a self-generated one – ever will.”6

The appeal of contemporary art 

Commissioning an artwork from an established and well-known artist like Damien Hirst, or the ever-elusive street artist Banksy, will certainly create a talking point for years to come – and will hardly fall out of favour. But on the flipside, commissioning an up-and-coming artist can be an incredibly exciting process too. Assuming they rise to fame, so potentially will the value of your artwork. That said, nothing is guaranteed or risk free. 

Intrigued? So what’s the next step? Commissioning artwork may at first seem an unnavigable path, but with institutions like the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, high-end art advisers such as Fine Art Commissions, and luxury art consultants like Artelier, there are professionals at hand to help.  

Such consultants typically have access to a global portfolio of artists and makers at all stages of their careers. By bridging the gap between client and artist, they can both source the right person for your commission, as well as take on the legal complexities surrounding it. The legal side of the art market is a flourishing industry, with multiple firms now specialising in art law. Contacting somebody with the legal know-how would certainly have helped Andy Warhol. In the 1980s the iconic Pop artist found himself unable to extract the money for a commission he had made for a particular American President.7

An experience like no other 

Commissioning art paves new opportunities for an artist, supports individual creativity, and nurtures the career of artists at any stage of their career.  

In the words of British sculptor Jonathan Kenworthy, “Art is really just a vehicle for passing on emotion.”8 He relayed this to Edward Horswall over lunch at his Surrey studio. “And I thought to myself,” Edward tells us later, “What on earth is he talking about? But after thirty years in the artworld, I completely understand. There's so much more to the visual pleasure that you get from looking at an artwork, it's all about where you bought it, or if you commissioned it, that all adds depth to the experience. It's fantastic.” 

Related articles


This communication is general in nature and provided for information/educational purposes only. It does not take into account any specific investment objectives, the financial situation or particular needs of any particular person. It not intended for distribution, publication, or use in any jurisdiction where such distribution, publication, or use would be unlawful, nor is it aimed at any person or entity to whom it would be unlawful for them to access.

This communication has been prepared by Barclays Private Bank (Barclays) and references to Barclays includes any entity within the Barclays group of companies.

This communication: 

(i) is not research nor a product of the Barclays Research department. Any views expressed in these materials may differ from those of the Barclays Research department. All opinions and estimates are given as of the date of the materials and are subject to change. Barclays is not obliged to inform recipients of these materials of any change to such opinions or estimates;

(ii) is not an offer, an invitation or a recommendation to enter into any product or service and does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities, investment advice or a personal recommendation; 

(iii) is confidential and no part may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted without the prior written permission of Barclays; and

(iv) has not been reviewed or approved by any regulatory authority.

Any past or simulated past performance including back-testing, modelling or scenario analysis, or future projections contained in this communication is no indication as to future performance. No representation is made as to the accuracy of the assumptions made in this communication, or completeness of, any modelling, scenario analysis or back-testing. The value of any investment may also fluctuate as a result of market changes.

Where information in this communication has been obtained from third party sources, we believe those sources to be reliable but we do not guarantee the information’s accuracy and you should note that it may be incomplete or condensed.

Neither Barclays nor any of its directors, officers, employees, representatives or agents, accepts any liability whatsoever for any direct, indirect or consequential losses (in contract, tort or otherwise) arising from the use of this communication or its contents or reliance on the information contained herein, except to the extent this would be prohibited by law or regulation.