Caravaggio's Judith and Holofernes
(1607), a captivating canvas discovered in 2014 in an attic near the French city of Toulouse, and purchased in 2019 by a mystery shopper shortly before it went up for auction, is at J Tomlinson Hill, a spectacular apartment overlooking Central Park and Fifth Avenue in New York.
"I do not confirm or deny the purchase," explains the homeowner with a mischievous smile at one of the most sought-after paintings on the planet.
Mystery buyer of Toulouse 'caravaggio' identified
Hill is one of the largest art collectors in the world, as the visitor to this exclusive place confirms after a walk through the rooms of the house.
A man of impeccable stature and little interest in giving interviews, he received EL PAÍS last July to talk about his jewels and allow his treasures to be photographed.
In the center, 'Portrait Study II', by Francis Bacon, and on the right, 'Red Electric Chair', by Andy Warhol. Pascal Perich (© Pascal Perich)
Almost all his treasures: the
, with which he was placed at the center of all kinds of speculation three years ago, after a private sale that is valued between 100 and 150 million euros, was left out of the deal.
The case (and its secrecy) is reminiscent of the
from the same era of the quarrelsome Milanese genius who appeared last year in Madrid at the Ansorena auction room for 1,500 euros.
In both cases there were also doubts about their authorship.
Fund administrator, he became vice president of the investment company Blackstone.
He is a dedicated student of the history of painting, a member of the boards of several major museums and has his own private art center, the Hill Art Foundation in the Chelsea neighborhood.
In his apartment he certainly has many pieces that would make any museum sigh.
“I wanted to buy the
red electric chair
, but my wife, Janine, vetoed it”, he tells amused about one of them.
She “said that she did not want children who were very young at the time to live with that shocking image in our house.
But everything comes, and once my daughters started going to university, I acquired, as I agreed with her, that magnificent work by Andy Warhol, which today dialogues with another emblematic work of the artist, from the
Views of Central Park from J. Tomlinson Hill's apartment, with a Warhol 'Mao' in the center and a painting by Cy Twombly on the left. Pascal Perich (© Pascal Perich)
Warhol is just one of the names on an extraordinary list that surprises in every corner of the apartment, designed by the influential interior designer Peter Marino, and includes
(with a work he painted over a Velázquez portrait of Philip IV's brother) ,
… Here, the historical masters, more typical of museums than of private homes, dialogue fluently with baroque bronzes and with painters who established themselves after the Second World War.
But Hill assures during a deep and friendly conversation that he does not buy only guided by the high-sounding names, but rather looks for works carefully selected for their relevance in art history.
And sometimes he does so following curious rules: "I should never have sold the
I got rid of in 2007. I was wrong," he recalls.
“But I did it because I couldn't find three other
to complement it, which made it impossible for me to comply with my 'rule of four', which is fundamental because it strengthens the dialogue between the collection ―for example, between the abstract world and the figurative—and, thus, avoids the logic according to which a person can buy isolated paintings like someone who goes to a shopping center”.
J. Tomilson Hill in his apartment, in front of a Francis Bacon painting.
In the foreground, a sculpture by Willem de Kooning. Pascal Perich (© Pascal Perich)
On how he organizes the treasures in his cave of wonders, he explains: "I have a hard time deciding where each piece goes, but once I decide, it doesn't change places anymore."
In 2019 he launched the Hill Art Foundation.
Private non-profit museum with more than 7,000 square feet, it is a space also conceived in shades of black and white by Marino.
"All my works dialogue with each other and establish connections that at first do not seem obvious," he continues.
“[Janine and I] collect certain masters in depth, and from each of them we have at least four major works.
For example, the wall you see there is intended exclusively for drawings by [Willem] De Kooning.”
In the center, work by Brice Marden.
On both sides, paintings by Christopher Wool. Pascal Perich (© Pascal Perich)
—And how do you conceive the art of collecting?
—I don't think too much about collecting in a conventional way.
I don't collect.
Rather, I look for works of art that challenge me and that, later, can converse with the other pieces I have.
This is a vision that I owe in large part to my mother, who, despite not having sold a single work, was an artist and worked fluently in painting, drawing, and sculpture in bronze and terracotta.
She really loved art, she had a great eye and she took me to visit museums.
And thanks to that inspiration, when I had no money, I was still able to acquire objects with which I was interested in living.
From London to Saudi Arabia, I have lived surrounded by objects, which have always been an uplifting stimulus;
they make me feel better.
Because a collection, whether of paintings, stamps or paintings, implies a declaration of principles.
And for me,
In each object, and in the way it relates to the ones I collect, there is that statement.
There are many people who, instead of seeing works with their eyes, see them with their ears, based on what people say, or speculating about their future value.
I never thought if what I was acquiring would be listed.
I don't mind.
A corner of the apartment, with works by Andy Warhol, Christopher Wool and a sculpture by Willem de Kooning. Pascal Perich (© Pascal Perich)
When asked how he started his own collection, he replies: “It was in the eighties, when I had little money, I collected still lifes, mostly Dutch, from the 18th century.
Not only were I drawn to them, but I still have them."
Also important in forging his taste was Jim Demetrion, who modeled for decades at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, and who was a great influence, he recalls, by introducing him to artists such as De Kooning or [Jean] Dubuffet.
Among his next projects is, as president of the Guggenheim Board of Trustees, the construction of a new headquarters in Abu Dhabi, whose building he has entrusted to Frank Gehry.
He is a privileged witness to the relationship between the public and the private in art.
About that, he warns: “Currently it is very difficult for museums to put together competitive collections in a world in which private welfare has exploded, and in which the art market is through the roof.
What is the answer to such an unsettling challenge?
For me, that the private ones donate.
And I have another thing clear: when my wife and I are no longer in this world, not only will our best works be in important museums, but our foundation will cease to exist.
I believe that art fills a void, makes people interact,
unite and feel better about yourself and your community.
It is that some complain that the museums are full, but they do not consider that in the sixties one saw works by Pollock or Monet in empty museums.
That is why I believe in the lines that support the history of art ―because without Velázquez there would be no Bacon or Manet;
without Manet there would be no Cézanne, and without Duchamp there would be no Warhol―, I believe in museums, I believe in my country and I also believe a lot in New York, my city”.
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