Jimmy Manton, AIG and the Tate Britain
posted by Lawrence Cunningham
Art lovers owe gratitude to Jimmy Manton, the Englishman whose philanthropic support of the Tate Gallery led Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to knight him in an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace on November 1, 1994. Manton, one of the founding fathers and driving forces behind American International Group (AIG), gave generously of his money and time to support the Tate, one of London’s premier art museums. Manton was the Tate Gallery’s second-most generous benefactor after its namesake, Henry Tate, having in 1987 established the American Fund for the Tate Gallery with a $6.5 million block of AIG shares. Manton thus sustained a tradition of philanthropy that characterized AIG’s top executives.
Manton began his career as an insurance agent in Paris in 1927 and in 1933 was recruited to work for one of the insurance companies within the group begun by Cornelius Vander Starr. Manton rose through the ranks swiftly, serving in several top executive positions at many Starr companies and ultimately serving as a director and senior advisor to AIG, which Hank Greenberg, Starr’s successor, formed in 1969. In 1999, Manton was the 98th person to be inducted into the Hall of Fame of the 42-year-old International Insurance Society—others include Starr and Greenberg (and Benjamin Franklin!).
After World War II, Manton began collecting paintings, with a particular fondness for Constable and his contemporaries and the landscape artist John Wonnacott. During the 1960s and 1970s, Manton assembled among the world’s most exquisite private art collections, rivaling that of Paul Mellon, whose vast collection is today housed in Washington, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art. Manton’s standing was noticed by museum managers globally, including Leslie Parris, during the 1980s the deputy keeper of the British Collection at the Tate, and a leading authority on Constable. During the Tate’s 1987 fundraising campaign, Manton offered to acquire for the museum Constable’s “The Opening of Waterloo Bridge” (pictured above).
Around the same time, Manton launched the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, whose purposes included strengthening the museum’s American collection. Manton organized the Fund to attract additional gifts, which accumulated to some $70 million over the years. At Manton’s death in October 2005, the Fund held $30 million in assets. It had been used to acquire many paintings for the Tate, by such American artists as, Philip Guston, Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Motherwell, Bruce Nauman and David Smith
Manton had meanwhile made several additional donations to the Tate. In addition to donating another major painting by Constable, “The Glebe Farm” (1830), he made major gifts in 1992 and 1997 totaling £12 million. These funds met the endowment needs at the Tate Britain and enabled transforming the presentation of British art at Tate Britain to the delight of millions of art lovers from around the world, including this one.