Norman Rosenblatt: In the blood - Art Collector

Issue 53, July - September 2010

As a teenager, Norman Rosenblatt saved up his pocket money to buy a Russell Drysdale from his uncle, Joseph Brown. Prue Gibson asks whether being a collector simply runs in the blood.

A passion for art often trickles down through family generations. Hans Heysen’s daughter Nora forged a painting career in his steps. The Boyd and Lindsay families were great networks of artistic endeavour. More recently, the career of Michael Johnson’s son Matthew is forging ahead and painter John Olsen’s daughter Louise and son Tim are successful art world figures.

Art collecting is no different. The compulsive pursuit of art buying and collecting is often epidemic within family units. Norman Rosenblatt is testament to the idea that art collecting is a communicable obsession. Rosenblatt jokes: “I have art with my cornflakes and milk every morning.” His uncle, Joseph Brown, has an immense reputation in Australian art history as a collector, dealer, gallery owner and National Gallery of Victoria benefactor. Brown’s gallery catalogues chart the careers of such artists as Russell Drysdale and Sidney Nolan, Rick Amor and John Brack, as well as offering a who’s who of colonial and impressionist Australian artists.

In 1933 Brown arrived in Australia from Poland at the age of 14 and went on to build a clothing empire until he could return to his first love – art. His nephew Norman Rosenblatt inherited the infectious art-loving gene, which presented at an early age: “I was about six years old when I became interested in art,” says Rosenblatt. “Joe got me a place at the George Bell School [in Melbourne] to learn to paint when I was 14. Unfortunately my parents weren’t very happy about this so I had to stop after about nine months.”

Although Rosenblatt was not able to continue his studies, he was not deterred from purchasing an artwork at a very young age. At 14, he bought a Russell Drysdale drawing from his uncle. “I paid it off with my pocket money. So you see Joe had a big influence on me.”
Rosenblatt describes his collection as “eclectic”. Although he is not so brash as to list his past purchases, he does reveal that he helps others start collections as well. “I advise people who are thinking of buying some art by asking them ‘do you love it?’ It’s human nature to fall in love,” he says.

“My second question [for prospective buyers] is ‘can you afford it?’,” he adds, later confessing that he and his wife have occasionally broken this rule by buying works they couldn’t really afford but just couldn’t do without.

Rosenblatt has been involved in the Melbourne Art Fair for five years as a board member of Arts Project Australia, which is dedicated to supporting outsider art and which has been involved as a participating art stand of the Melbourne Art Fair since its inception. “Collectors visiting the Melbourne Art Fair have the chance to see Arts Project artists and a great array of creation in the original primary market, with no secondary sales,” says Rosenblatt. “There are so many paintings to see in one area – it is like going to an artistic wonderland.”

Arts Project Australia will be at Melbourne Art Fair again this year, representing Arts Project artists who, as Rosenblatt explains, “can’t communicate with people and who can’t portray themselves as well as other people. But art is an international language.” This year he travelled to the United States with fellow Arts Project board member and founding director of the Melbourne Art Fair Jonah Jones to gauge outsider art in New York. They are both committed to creating opportunities for Australian Arts Project artists, believing the raw talent is a resource to be developed.

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