THE IDEA that high finance and successful commerce are the enemies of cultural flourishing has never made sense. From the banker-patrons of the Florentine
Renaissance, to modern collectors and philanthropists, there’s a rich, living tradition in which making money and making beautiful things go hand in hand.
Yet it seems we still need reminding. And so what a treat to find a new exhibition at Two Temple Place, celebrating the art collections built by the industrialists of the north west in their economic heyday.
Cotton to Gold runs until 19 April and showcases everything from medieval manuscripts to Tiffany glass, all now in the hands of three public galleries in Lancashire.
The wonderful objects on display are complemented by the setting itself: a magnificent piece of late Victorian splendour. Completed in 1895 for the businessman, art lover and newspaper publisher William Waldorf Astor, it was a practical estate office with Europe’s largest strongroom. But it is also a triumphant example of the heights that can be achieved when money is no object.
Today, the idea appears to have set in that finance and business are barbarous at best, that even if their successful acumen can be taxed to pay for cultural activities, their own work must always sit on the debit side of the ledger. An exhibition like this, in such a setting, shows that idea is wrong.
The counter-tradition continues today, in art collections such as that of Deutsche Bank, and the architectural vitality of the 21st-century City, where jewel-like Wren churches sit side-by-side with an ever-evolving skyline. But looking back drives it home that there are no excuses. Beauty remains everybody’s business.
Marc Sidwell is City A.M.’s executive editor