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Why UniCredit is selling its art

Italy’s biggest bank is offloading choice bits of its 60,000-strong art collection – in doing so it is going in a different direction to peers like Intesa Sanpaolo.


Il Guercino's The Prayer in the Garden, one of UniCredit’s art works in its Bologna headquarters. Photo: Alessandro Rugeri

UniCredit has been keeping a relatively low profile in the art world recently, despite having one of biggest bank art collections in the world.

Scattered around the bank’s premises in Italy, Germany and Austria are Old Masters and paintings by big-name European modernists such as Gustav Klimt, Giorgio de Chirico and Fernand Léger. UniCredit is especially known for its collection of work by Germany’s Gerhard Richter, one of the superstars of the contemporary art world.

But for UniCredit chief executive Jean Pierre Mustier – who has publicly swapped the CEO’s private jet for a red-daubed Fiat 500 – the bank brings no special expertise to owning and managing such an important collection. There is also today a mismatch between the austerity that he espouses and these masterpieces in the offices of a bank. They are the unwanted legacy of mergers and chief executives past.

The fact that UniCredit is now selling this art might speak not just to the unique character of its chief executive, but also to the bank’s unique situation, as an internationally oriented Italian bank (its only large local rival, Intesa Sanpaolo, has more of a national champion status).

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