Art really is in your blood; talk us through your family’s legacy… Our family has been involved with art for many generations. My father founded the Cass Sculpture Foundation in 1992, my sister is an artist and my great-great uncle, Paul Cassirer, was an influential art dealer and a promoter of the Impressionism movement in Europe. In 1901, he was lucky enough to hold some of the very first exhibitions of Impressionism, and one of my favourite stories centres around the handful of van Gogh exhibitions that he held in Berlin. He borrowed eight or nine pieces from the van Gogh estate and there are some wonderful letters that my family still has of him recounting back to Theo (Vincent’s brother) saying “I think I might have sold one…can we do another show?” This was seen as a really positive result because, incredibly, there was a time when these pieces simply didn’t sell. Fast forward to 1987 when ‘Sunflowers’ sold at auction for $40 million dollars! Impressionism is arguably the most important movement to come out of that period, and the artwork certainly reaches the highest values in today’s market. Cass Art is now an institution, but how did it all begin? In 1984, I was running a large art and craft business in London but due to rents and rates, even at that time, a decision was made that it wasn’t sustainable. I got the opportunity to take over 13 Charing Cross Road, at the back of the National Gallery, which is probably the best located art shop in the world, and steeped in heritage
thanks to its many famous visitors over the years, from Winston Churchill to Claude Monet. At that time I had little money, but as it turns out, I needn’t have worried. I went to the landlord who, luckily, was the ex-husband of Elizabeth Frink the sculptor and he knew of my family. He was gracious enough to put my mind at rest and assure me I didn’t need a deposit for the rent, and that’s how I managed to get started. So I opened the store and employed a manager who was himself an artist. That was my first moment of realisation that our products need to be explained by someone who has a knowledge of using them – and he was that person. Once the store was up and running I turned my attention to my biggest passion, which was - as it still is to this day - photography. I worked full time on Image Bank, a stock photo library that my father and I started in 1979. It turned out to be the crown jewels in my back pocket even though I didn’t realise it at the time; it sat dormant for 20 years until Getty Images eventually bought it in 2001, at which point I returned to the UK. The fantastic chaps at Winsor & Newton quite insightfully recognised that a great many art supply stores in London had ceased trading, and advised me to turn my attention to filling that gap. After doing my homework, it appeared that most of the closures were as a result of the emergence of the digital world, and their offering of dry-letter transfers and markers simply couldn’t compete. So I found premises on Kensington High Street (where I knew an art shop had existed previously) and went to see a
company called Pentagram Design – the world's largest independent design consultancy. Angus Hyland, who is one of the partners there, and I sat down and developed the Cass Art brand, from its styling and product range, to our wider approach and company mission.
“I’ve always understood the joy that creative processes can bring to people.”
The first challenge wasn’t deciding what we wanted to do, we have a very clear view on that. We wanted to swim against the tide of the increasingly digital world and get everybody using their hands to make things again, whilst keeping it affordable and accessible. We came up with a plan to “interrupt the high street” as it were, and tap into the general
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