John Maynard Keynes

Cambridge, United Kingdom, 1883‒Sussex, United Kingdom, 1946

The economist John Maynard Keynes was an ardent supporter of public arts programming in Britain and a passionate collector. Between 1917 and 1945 he amassed more than 135 works that reflected his role as a founding member of the Bloomsbury Group and his interest in modern French painting from Post-Impressionism to Cubism.

While pursuing a degree in mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge, Keynes developed enduring friendships with critics Clive Bell and Lytton Strachey, artist Vanessa Bell, art historian Roger Fry, and authors Leonard and Virginia Woolf, as well as other artists, writers, and intellectuals of the loose collective known as the Bloomsbury Group. His relationships with those in the circle influenced his decision to collect French Post-Impressionist and Cubist paintings. He also purchased decorative arts, books, and paintings created by Bloomsbury artists at the group’s design shop, the Omega Workshops, until its closure in 1919. At the advice of artist Duncan Grant, Keynes attended the sale of Edgar Degas’ personal collection in Paris in March and April 1918. He acquired seven paintings and works on paper by Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Paul Gauguin, and Paul Cézanne (including Still Life with Apples, 1877; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) at reduced prices. In addition to purchasing works for his own collection, he also helped Sir Charles Holmes, then director of the National Gallery in London, to acquire paintings, using 20,000 pounds allocated by the British government to compensate for war loans. With Keynes’s assistance, Holmes purchased thirteen paintings and eleven drawings for the museum.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Keynes acquired the work of British artists through the Greater London Arts Association, including paintings by Vanessa Bell, Raymond Coxon, Grant, William Roberts, and Walter Sickert. He also continued to collect French paintings at auction sales and galleries in London and Paris. At Bell and Grant’s suggestion, he purchased works by Henri Matisse as well as Georges Seurat’s The Couple (Study for “La Grande Jatte,” 1884; Provost and Fellows of King’s College, Cambridge)at the Chelsea Book Club in London in 1919. In 1924, Grant acquired Georges Braque’s Still Life (1911, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) for Keynes in Berlin. Keynes regularly patronized prominent galleries in Paris, such as the Galerie Vildrac, Galerie Goupil & Cie, and Wildenstein and Co., Inc., and in London, including Chelsea Book Club, London Group, Alex Reid & Lefèvre, Redfern Gallery, and Ernest Brown & Phillips. With proceeds from the publication of his book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936), he added other important works to his collection, including Cézanne’s L’Enlèvement (The Abduction, 1867; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)and Undergrowth, (1880, Provost and Fellows of King’s College, Cambridge.)

Keynes was a prominent patron of the arts throughout his lifetime, and his stewardship of public arts institutions—from ballets to theaters to visual art societies—demonstrated ideas he concurrently espoused in his writings on economic policy. In 1911, he was a founding member and acquisitions advisor for the Arts Council (later the Contemporary Arts Society) in Britain. Fourteen years later, he established the Greater London Arts Association to finance working artists, serving as director until its dissolution in 1933. During the 1930s, he was a buyer for the Contemporary Arts Society in Britain. Keynes, married to Lydia Lopokova, a former ballerina of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, was also an ardent supporter of the ballet, and he served as treasurer of the Camargo Society, a ballet company, from 1931 to 1934. He organized, funded, and later managed the Cambridge Arts Theatre, which opened in 1936, and ensured its public operation by establishing a charitable trust in 1938. Three years later, he was elected to the Board of Trustees at the National Gallery in London. He continued to foster public appreciation for the arts as chairman of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) during the Second World War and oversaw the organization’s postwar conversion into the Arts Council of Great Britain.

Upon his death in 1946, Keynes bequeathed his personal collection of more than one hundred works to King’s College, Cambridge, and much of the collection was subsequently installed in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

For more information, see:

Shone, Richard, and Duncan Grant. “The Picture Collector.” In Essays on John Maynard Keynes, ed. John Maynard Keynes, pp. 280–89. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

Scrase, David, and Peter Croft. Maynard Keynes: Collector of Pictures, Books and Manuscripts. Cambridge: The Fitzwilliam Museum, 1983.

Keynes’s correspondence and detailed invoices of the works he acquired between 1917 and 1945 remain in the university archives at King’s College, Cambridge.

How to cite this entry:
O’Hanlan, Sean, "John Maynard Keynes", The Modern Art Index Project (August 2021), Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://doi.org/10.57011/LGWK7247