Last week we treated Bradford University students and staff to a lunchtime introduction to the Mitrinović Collection – and mince pies! I thought I would share one of the documents that sparked some interest amongst the group here on the Eleventh Hour.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Dimitrije Mitrinović had friends in the art world, including Wassily Kandinsky and the German Expressionist painter Gabriella Münter. His interest in art began early on in life, and he studied art history at university as well as writing about contemporary art in various publications as a young man. Mitrinović also collected works of art, and a few weeks ago I came across a wonderful letter from E.L.T. Mesens, then one of the co-directors of The London Gallery, that sheds some light on his collection.
Mesens lists paintings Mitrinović had bought from the gallery, and the prices he had paid. He also lists works he had sent Mitrinović on approval, giving us an insight into one of the ways in which Mitrinović acquired paintings.
It is quite astonishing to come across such distinguished names in an ordinary file of correspondence, reminding us that in 1939 individual collectors could still afford to buy works by such artists as René Magritte and Paul Klee whose works would now go to major institutions. The art market has certainly changed! Even so, many of those who attended our session last week were curious about where Mitrinović found the money to support his art habit. It’s an interesting question, and one I haven’t entirely resolved, beyond knowing that he had some income from the Yugoslavian government and was notorious for being able to winkle money out of his supporters! It must also be said that Mitrinović could be very generous, and letters in the archive show him giving artworks to friends and championing ventures like the Richmond Art Club (now Richmond Art Society).
Beyond shedding light on Mitrinović’s own tastes for Surrealism and Cubism, this letter might be of interest to curators, art historians or others interested in the provenance of particular works and how they were received.