The Brazilian Collector Whose Fantastic Taste Began an Art Foundation

By Sotheby's
Select pieces from the collection of the late Ema Klabin appear in Sotheby’s Fine Jewels sale on 11 December, with proceeds going to her foundation, which continues to promote cultural, artistic and scientific activities.

I n the late ‘70s, Brazilian collector and philanthropist Ema Gordon Klabin set up a foundation to preserve and display her huge and varied art collection. Now a nationally-recognised museum in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the work she began continues to support and promote cultural, artistic and scientific activities in the country.

Housed in her former home in the Jardins district, which was especially designed by architect Alfredo Ernesto Becker in the 1950s to present her eclectic artworks, her collection numbers more than 1,500 pieces including works from ancient Greece, European masters, important works from the Dutch, Italian and French schools, alongside contrasting works from Asia, Africa and South America. Brazilian art also has an important place in Klabin’s collection, with pieces ranging from the colonial period to the first generations of modernists.

Born to Lithuanian immigrants in 1900s Rio de Janiero, Klabin spent much of her childhood in Europe, relocating to Switzerland in World War I. The enjoyed some formal education here, but on her return to Brazil she was taught by private teachers, as her Jewish heritage meant she was unable to attend Catholic school, the only option for girls in the country at the time.

Perhaps because of her links to Europe, or the influence of her teachers, she grew up to be a great lover of music and art, reading avidly and attending cultural events such as the theatre, opera and ballet. Soon enough, she began to develop an interest in collecting, starting with oriental rugs, porcelain and silverware.

Her father had built a successful business and on his death in 1946, Ema and her sister Eva inherited the family fortune. Remaining unmarried and childless, Ema dedicated herself to both the family business, and her own cultural and philanthropic activities, travelling regularly to both Europe and the US to acquire new items for her collection.

In 1978, Ema created her foundation, in order to keep her large and impressive collection together. It opened to the public after her death in 1994, at the age of 86.

The Cultural Foundation Ema Gordon Klabin has since lent works for numerous exhibitions in Brazil and in Europe, and cataloguing of the collection began in 1997, allowing better understanding of the the pieces and their cultural value.

Several lots in Sotheby’s Fine Jewels sale on December 11 are from Klabin’s collection and are being sold in aid of the Ema Klabin Foundation.

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