He is vice president of the jewel of the American financial press, a great wine lover (Lafite Rothschild) and an enthusiast of the Second Empire. He is Christopher Forbes, president of the Biennale Paris for this 2017 edition. An “ambassador” of shock aesthetics, a collector and a patron. An encounter.
Christopher Forbes, vice president of Forbes Publishing and an extremely well-connected art collector, is a Francophile. And here’s proof: as the new school year starts, he’s ready in place as the new president of Biennale Paris. Christopher “Kip” Forbes is therefore presiding over the destiny of the “Biennale Committee”, which this year comprises Prince Amyn Aga Khan, Max Blumberg, Gary Tinterow and Roxana Velásquez. While Forbes takes care to specify that “the decision to improve and raise the quality standards of Biennale Paris was taken before I joined the committee”, he has also confided to Art Media Agency that “the committee members, who are not affiliated with the Syndicat National des Antiquaires, are either collectors or genuine connoisseurs, or else work closely with those who are”. Before going on to say: “We’ll all try to attract as many people as possible to the fair this year.” At the same time, he remains discreet on how exactly these interpersonal networks operate, how friendships develop on the art market… Regarding the Committee’s vice president, Benjamin Steinitz, a specialist in decorative objects and classical furniture, Christopher Forbes has confessed that he has “long admired and appreciated his presentations at various art and antiquities fairs”, while becoming personally acquainted with him only recently, via the committee. Similarly, he only met the SNA’s new president Mathias Ary Jan for the first time at the launch of the Biennale Committee, at the syndicate’s head office on Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris, on 15 November 2016.
So why did he get involved in this venture? Christopher Forbes is a regular of the Biennale des Antiquaires, whose alleys he has strolled through on several occasions. “The Biennale has a unique savoir-faire and its presentation is unequalled in comparison with all international art fairs.” But that’s not all, as he explains: “I accepted the invitation from the Syndicat National des Antiquaires because of my passion for art and French antiquities. I consider my main role as being an ‘ambassador’, as drawing a maximum number of collectors, connoisseurs, and curators from all over the world to the Biennale this year.” A role that he visibly takes very seriously… American collectors have no doubt been encouraged to come thanks to his appointment as head of the event. Forbes has repeated throughout this summer: “Not only will I encourage as many American collectors as possible to come, but also a maximum of collectors from all over the world who I know. I’m going to send personal invitations to people from my own list comprising several hundreds of people likely to offer the fair a fine future. I’ll also be collaborating closely with Mathias Ary Jan and members of the SNA board to set up an honorary committee for the gala opening.”
The American Friends of the Louvre
Among the 93 exhibitors gathered by the Biennale, the two foreign galleries that this man of art is most familiar with are Richard Green, the famous brand on New Bond Street, and Whitford Fine Art, a must-see gallery from the St James’s district, “both from London where my family had a house”. Among the French galleries – Forbes having been a customer at some of them –, “those that I appreciate in particular are Alexis Bordes, a specialist in Old Masters drawings and paintings, Chevalier for its tapestries, Éric Coatalem for French masters from the 17th to the 20th centuries, Steinitz and Tamenaga.” Christopher Forbes is also enthusiastic about the major exhibition being devoted to the Barbier-Mueller collections, “110 years of passion”, which will be one of this Biennale’s highlights with over 130 objets d’art gathered from generation to generation. “I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Jean-Paul Barbier-Mueller, but I’m looking forward to meeting the members of his family and discovering the major works of their collections, here at the fair.”
Let’s not forget that Christopher Forbes was the founder and president, for over ten years, of the American Friends of the Louvre, set up in 2002 in New York to help the museum to obtain more financing, to enrich its collections, and to strengthen its scientific research programmes. He also worked alongside Henri Loyrette, the museum’s president at the time, to create the International Council of the Louvre, in 2008. As a collector and patron involved in the world of art, Forbes regularly takes part in many international events. He can thus be spotted on Park Avenue, at the Winter Antiques Show in New York, or else, in Florida, at the Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show in Miami. On the other hand, “I’ve only been to Maastricht once,” he confided to us.
A fan of Lafite Rothschild
In France, Christopher Forbes is also well known to the art world, namely ever since the sale of his collection of paintings and Napoleon III objects, in March 2016 at Fontainebleau. With a fascination for the Second Empire, Forbes is a little bit at home on this territory. Fontainebleau was the place where the last monarch was baptised and where he spent the last days of his reign… It is also the place where Forbes met the auctioneer Jean-Pierre Osenat, a major specialist in historical souvenirs in general, and Napoleonic relics in particular, who sold, in June 2007, the sabre carried by Bonaparte at the Battle of Marengo, for €4.8 million.
Not content with being a collector (since the age of sixteen, when his father gave him a portrait of Napoleon III painted by Hippolyte Flandrin, purchased from an antique dealer in Saint-Tropez), Christopher Forbes is also a manager. He has been vice president, since 1989, of Forbes Publishing, a family business founded by his grandfather Bertie Charles in 1917, and now the jewel of the US financial press. In his spare time, he is also a wine lover (Château Lafite Rothschild) and an ardent defender of heritage. He long worked, with his father Malcolm, on the restoration of the Château de Balleroy in Normandy, in the 1970s, following the plans of the young Mansart. A well-filled life, but one in which there’s still (a bit of) room to fit in the Biennale Paris!
“I’m a philanthropist. I make donations and I raise funds for the Louvre, the opera, dance, museums, and many other committees…” Becca Cason Thrash and her husband John have been Biennale regulars for 20 years. “I always come. It’s an extraordinary event. At the last Biennale, I grieved the absence of so many haute jewellery stands, but I know that they’ll be back soon, and they add a lot of charm to the event. You can always find a treasure there, whether an antiquity, modern art, or jewellery… There really is the best of everything there.” As a philanthropist, Becca Cason Thrash has declared to Art Media Agency that she has always preferred art over any other business. “My husband and I adore modern and contemporary art, the surrealists, Picasso, Georg Baselitz and so many others.” In Paris, in 2005, Mrs Thrash set up Liaisons au Louvre, organising charity galas and other auctions for the museum’s benefit. “This time, I decided to organise a voyage…” An operation whose profits have also been divided up, half going to the American Friends of the Louvre, the other half to Venetian Heritage, an international foundation aiming to safeguard the heritage of the Italian city. “We raised $3.7 million this year… It was a great moment!” About Christopher Forbes, Becca Cason Thrash has told us that he is “like my brother. At the American Friends of the Louvre board, his role is to head up everything and to try to bring new people into the organisation.” Within the committee, Becca quickly started raising funds, in Houston, Palm Beach, Los Angeles… “As an American, if you work hard and earn a lot of money, you give it back to art, science, ecology.” For example, in 2008, 250 people from all over the world took part in the first Liaisons au Louvre gala. The entrance ticket cost $10000 at the time. Fundraising, an activity heavily reliant on contacts, is a fine art in itself!
Becca Cason Thrash, a philanthropist, is a member of the board of the American Friends of the Louvre and Venetian Heritage.