Over the past thirty years an anonymous buyer has been snapping up many of the headline artworks that have come up at the big auction houses. We now know that Spain’s richest woman, Alicia Koplowitz, 7th Marquise of Bellavista, has been behind many of these sensational purchases, discretely assembling a breathtaking art collection that is currently on show at the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris. Her eclectic taste, encompassing the work of Old Masters, Modern Masters and Contemporary Art, has made her into one of the most prolific collectors of our age.

Believed to be worth more than $2.5 billion, Alicia Koplowitz, set up Grupo Omega Capital after selling off her stake in a property company she inherited from her father. Her first forays into collecting began when she was just 17, but she turned to it more seriously after divorcing her husband of 20 years. Art collecting was a means, according to the curator of the exhibition, Pablo Melendo, the former director of both Sotheby’s and Christie’s, to “escape from being alone.” Beginning with the work of the Old Masters she was forced to move into Modern and Contemporary Art when their number grew increasingly scarce at auction.

On the left Egon Schiele, Woman in a Blue Dress, 1911, and on the right Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Young Girl Reading, 1889

Buying one great work each year, she bought the Egon Schiele, Woman in a Blue Dress, 1911 for just £60,000 in 1987. Modigliani’s Red-headed Woman wearing a Pendant, 1918 followed in 2000 at $6.3 million. The slightly inclined head, face as enigmatic as a mask and almond eyes is afflicted with the same melancholy of Modigliani’s most treasured works—reflecting what the artist saw as a “mute affirmation of life”. By 2007 Koplowitz was playing in the big league and a sumptuous Pablo Picasso portrait of his wife Olga, Woman’s Head and Hand, 1921 was snapped up for $18.5 million. Emblematic of a shift towards realism—as adopted by a large number of artists as reaction to the horrors of the World War I—Picasso put aside his adventures with cubism to return to his love of Neo-classical line.

Whilst building up her collection, Koplowitz has become immensely knowledgeable about art history and what constitutes, in her mind, a great work of art. Even if there is no particular focus to the collection, just works that resonate with her deeply. Most of the great artists of the 20th century are represented, from a Mark Rothko masterpiece to a beautiful and unsettling work by Lucian Freud. Rothko’s N°6 (Yellow, White, Blue over Yellow on Gray), 1954 is made up of large flat areas of color, devoid of distinctive signs the different intensities of light and color clash and force themselves on the viewer’s attention. Freud’s Young Girl in a Fur Coat, 1967 is loaded with greys, whites and browns, in the blotchy face and distracted gaze, Freud deliberately rejects any temptation to charm. 

On the left Amedeo Modigliani, Red-headed Woman wearing a Pendant, 1918, in the middle Lucian Freud, Young Girl in a Fur Coat, 1967, and on the right Pablo Picasso, Woman’s Head and Hand, 1921

With a penchant for female portraits, all of the works on display seem to share a unifying artistic sensibility and throughout the exhibition it is possible to see that she not only enjoys collecting, but that she cherishes the opportunity life has given her to do so:

“Nobody chooses where they are born, but most people, depending on their abilities, have the freedom to choose their own path in life. One of the opportunities or paths that I have chosen is art, a path that has brought me great joy, emotion and memories at all stages of my life.”

On the left Mark Rothko, N°6 (Yellow, White, Blue over Yellow on Gray) and on the right Willem De Kooning, Untitled IV (Sans titre IV), 1977

More than anything collecting has allowed Koplowitz to “explore intimate paths previously unknown to (her). This is why the collection has so much to do with (her) life’s story.” Of course much of Koplowitz’s life story is unknown to us, she is extremely private and rarely attends social events unless they have been organized by one of her foundations. At least we have this wonderful exhibition, an insight into the private world of a top international art collector, where antique Roman and Greek sculptures sit comfortably alongside the standout works of the 20th century.

From Zurbarán to Rothko. Alicia Koplowitz Collection - Grupo Omega Capital” at the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris can be viewed from the 3rd of March through to the 10th of July 2017.