The Cass Family History • Supporting Artists for Over a Century

by Cass Art

Mark Cass, the founder and CEO of Cass Art, was first introduced to art materials when his father, Wilfred Cass, was the Chairman of Reeves, the world’s oldest paint manufacturer dating back to 1766. When he was just 12 years old, he visited the paint factory in Enfield, and from then on, it seems pigment was in his blood. 

Journey with us and trace the Cass Family history as we recount their support for artists, through showcasing and commissioning their work, fighting for art education and making the best quality art materials available to everyone at affordable prices.

Where It All Began

Paul and Bruno Cass(irer) were pivotal figures in the early 20th century art world, whose Gallery (Die Berliner Kunstsalon) in Berlin was largely responsible for bringing French impressionism to Europe. Renowned artists such as Van Gogh, Degas, Monet and Cezanne were just a few of the artists whose work they introduced to Berlin. 

Image: 'Sunflowers' 1888, Vincent Van Gogh

In April 1905, Paul Cassirer hosted a show of Vincent Van Gogh’s work. Until this point, there had been little interest in the artist, and within a few years, he had created a booming market. Cassirer bought nine Van Gogh artworks, which included the ‘Sunflowers’, which he bought for the sum of £110 (2,200 marks).

The Cass(irer) family left Germany in 1935 to relocate in the UK. The family history of working with avant-garde artists inspired the two brothers, Wilfred and Eric Cassirer, to build private art collections alongside their wives over the next 40 years. 

Image: Eric and Jean Cass's Living Room, 2012. Photo by David Atfield

Shortening their name to Cass, the pair went on to work with a generation of artists, including Karel Appel, Michael Craig-Martin, Barbara Hepworth, Joan Miro, Henry Moore, Victor Pasmore, Eduardo Paolozzi, Pablo Picasso and Niki de Saint-Phalle.

Eric & Jean Cass have donated over 300 important modern and contemporary artworks from their personal collection to the Contemporary Art Society for allocation to public institutions and to support contemporary art in the UK. The collection, amassed over almost 40 years, is one of the most unique and significant collections of modern and contemporary art in the country, encompassing over 300 sculptures, ceramics, drawings, prints and paintings.

Both Eric and Jean have always been interested in supporting today’s young artists, and went on to set up an ongoing Sculpture Scholarship at the Royal College of Art, that still runs today. In 2014, they were both awarded OBEs in the New Year’s Honours List for their support of the Contemporary Art Society and for their philanthropic services to the arts.

Image: Versus, 2012, Tony Cragg in the grounds of the Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood, West Sussex

The Cass Sculpture Foundation

The Cass Sculpture Foundation is a British charity founded in 1992 by Wilfred and Jeannette Cass. Their mission was to provide support for artists to achieve new levels of ambition. The result, a pioneering, not-for-profit organisation that inspires, enables and presents the output of some of the most important figures in contemporary sculpture.

The Foundation has commissioned over 400 monumental sculptures and invested over £43 million into artists in the last 23 years, placing works within museums around the world, from Sir Anthony Caro and The Tower of Discovery in MOMA to the first major solo show for Tony Cragg on Exhibition Road in 2012 and the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.

Image Credit: Monument, 2001, Rachel Whiteread, unveiling of her sculpture on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square

The Fourth Plinth

In 1998, the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) conceived the Fourth Plinth Project, repurposing the empty plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square to house a series of contemporary artworks. The Cass Sculpture Foundation commissioned the first three pieces to adorn the plinth, pathing the way for a succession of sculptures, performances and opportunities for artists to showcase their work on the centre stage in the heart of London.

The success of the commissions and popularity of the public plinth has led to several community art programmes, including the launch of The Fourth Plinth School’s Award, where Primary School Children are invited to design their own public artwork. 

In 2006, Wilfred Cass was awarded a CBE for his contribution to the arts. The award is dedicated to his outstanding work with charitable, welfare and public services outside the Civil Service within the arts and sciences.

Today, The Foundation showcases a breadth of international artists, supporting emerging artists with commissions and scholarship programmes.

Image: Why Do They Never Take Colour Photographs, 2016, Song Ta, in the grounds of The Cass Sculpture Foundation

In 2016, 'A Beautiful Disorder' brought together the works of 18 contemporary Greater Chinese artists to the UK for the first major exhibition of newly commissioned outdoor sculpture. Exploring the historical relationship between English and Chinese landscape aesthetics, the grounds host a range of diverse sculptures exploring political, environmental and sociological themes. It is the largest ever show to be housed in the CASS grounds. Find out more about the artists and nature of the show here.

Image: Sean Henry, Folly (The Other Self) 2011 and Mark Cass at The Cass Sculpture Foundation

The Beginning of Cass Art

Mark Cass was first introduced to art materials when he was just 12 years old, and first visited the Reeves paint factory in Enfield, and from then on, it seems pigment was in his blood. Mark got a taste for art retail in the early 80’s, when he was the Managing Director of the largest Graphics & Craft retailer in the UK, Craftsmith.

Image: Reeves product packaging circa 1972-73

Cass Art was founded by Mark in 1984 when he took over the lease of 13 Charing Cross Road. Situated next to The National Gallery, it has been an art store for over 100 years, first opening its doors to artists in 1898. Many famous artists have visited over the years, including Lawrence of Arabia, Winston Churchill and Claude Monet.

In 2001 Mark returned to London from New York, where he was working at Getty Images (the world’s largest image stock library) as Global Brand Manager for the two main rights protected brands, Stone and Image Bank. Mark visited hundreds of art stores around the world, and saw an opportunity to revolutionise the art supply business and make it accessible for all. 

Image: Cass Art Glasgow opened in 2013 with a dedicated Art Space for local artists

Working with renowned brand designers Pentagram, they came up with a new concept for a creative lifestyle business. Stores were transformed into light and airy spaces, making browsing a relaxed and comfortable experience, with spaces dedicated to supporting artists within the local community. 

Mark wanted Cass Art to be more than just an art materials supplier. He began reaching out to emerging artists, photographers and suppliers to develop their creativity and exposure. He sought to build a positive relationship with world best suppliers, to bring the highest quality materials to Cass Art, but also offer the opportunity to support and develop their brand.

Winsor and Newton, the world leader in Artist Oils, wanted to launch a range of 200ml tubes of Artists’ Oil Colour, to give artists a larger volume to work with. At the time, the existing tubes were only 37ml and the larger quantities were only available in student quality.

As if by fate, a recent graduate from Central Saint Martins walked into Cass Art Kensington, looking to buy the entire student quality 200ml oil paint range available. Painter Scarlett Raven was looking for a vast quantity of colour for her next set of paintings, and it became clear that there was a need for a new Artist Quality 200ml range - but how could this message get out to painters everywhere?

Working with internationally renowned photographer Nadav Kander, they created a series of adverts to promote the new line of Winsor and Newton 200ml oils and painter Scarlett Raven.

As more stores opened across London, Cass Art was united with a new art manifesto – Let’s Fill This Town With Artists’.

The Cass Art Manifesto

Taking inspiration from artist manifestos and movements from across the globe, the seven points of the Cass Art Manifesto underpins the company’s longstanding support of artists, championed under the headline statement ‘Let’s Fill This Town With Artists’.

Art is Freedom

The right to creatively express yourself is at the heart of everything they do.

Best Prices, Best Materials

Mark felt it was important in the digital world that the best analogue materials were made available to all at affordable prices. Cass Art has an unbeatable price guarantee, encouraging everyone to experience the pleasure of individual creativity, no matter their income. Whether you’re a professional artist or just beginning your creative endeavour, the world’s best quality materials are available to everyone.

Cass Art continues to develop world class Own Brand products in collaboration with Pentagram, to bring the best quality to artists at an affordable price. From heavyweight cartridge pads and watercolour postcards to synthetic brushes and design your own mug kits, they have covered all the basics to keep you making work for less. Expanding the range is in full swing, with the launch of pastels and new watercolour pads set to be in stores before the New Year, and a series of paint in the pipe line for the new year.

Our People

All their staff are artists. Cass Art are proud to have over 140 staff artists working across the business to bring their customers intelligent, thoughtful advice based on their own experience and interest in the materials they sell.

Cass Art helps to support their practice, through a series of staff exhibitions, grants and funding opportunities. Visions brought together the work of over 100 emerging artists, providing them with a platform to showcase their work and celebrate their creative talent.

Our Shop, Our Nation

Across London, Cass Art has six stores in Kingston, Soho, Charing Cross, Hampstead, Kensington, with their Flagship store in Islington, comprising 3 floors and dedicated Art Space on the lower ground level. Today, there are now 11 stores nationwide, including Glasgow, Liverpool, Bristol, Birmingham and Brighton, with Manchester on the horizon.

Image: Art Macrbe Life Drawing class at the Cass Art Islington Flagship

With the launch of the online store in 2013, their mission to fill this country, its cities, towns and villages, with artists is growing ever stronger.

Supporting Artists Across the UK

On a grass roots level, Cass Art encourages all artists within the local community to collaborate and realise their ideas.

Image: The Cass Art Islington Flagship Art Space, Exhibition of BP Portrait Award 2016 Artists

There are four, free, dedicated art spaces available for local artists to host exhibitions, events and workshops throughout the year. Located in the Liverpool, Kingston and Glasgow stores, and most recently, a new art space in their Islington flagship. Each space supports a wealth of creative activities; from artist talks and demos to workshops and limited edition artworks.

Supporting Art Education

Cass Art supports schools, colleges and universities for a breadth of creative endeavours. From providing materials and opportunities for students, to grants, sponsorship and funding for the institutions themselves, continuing creativity in schools is at the heart of everything they do. 

Image: The Big White Wall Project, Granary Square at the Central St Martins building, 2016

Cass Art and Winsor and Newton supports the Big White Wall Project at Central St Martins, as well as provided awards, prizes and sponsorship for Universities across the UK, including The University of the Arts London and The Slade School of Art.

The Cass Art Student Ambassador programme offers university students the opportunity to realise exhibitions and events, develop their practice through exclusive workshops and access to materials from the world’s best suppliers, as well as feature their writing on the Cass Art Blog.

Image: Cass Art Student Ambassadors at the Islington Flagship Welcome Day

Each year, they reward the ambassadors with an exclusive exhibition of their work; inviting both professional and graduates to talk about their experiences on a number of issues. Highlights have Bob and Roberta Smith and Sir Jon Sorrell’s fight for Art Education.

Image: Patrick Ball, aka Bob and Roberta Smith, at home in Leytonstone, London. Photograph: Rob Greig/Camera Press/Time Out

Making Art in Schools is invaluable to a balanced education. Cass Art will continue to fight for creative education and will empower artist educators, students, parents and partnerships to stand up for children’s creativity.

Inspiring the next generation of artists, Cass Art has worked with over 10,000 young people across the UK with the launch of the National Art & Design Saturday Club Programme. Uniting tutors and students with professional designers artists and architects, the programme gives children across the country the unique opportunity to study art and design every Saturday morning at their local college or university for free. 

Image: Children collecting their prizes at the Fourth Plinth Schools Award

They are proud to support The Fourth Plinth School’s Award since its inception. Inviting Primary School children from boroughs across London to get creative and design an artwork for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, children as young as four are encouraged to creatively work together to realise a public artwork and offer new views of London. The schools then come together one day a year for a huge prize giving.


Committed to encouraging everyone to realise their creative talents, Cass Art has supported the learning activities at galleries including The National Portrait Gallery, Design Museum, Drawing Room, Parasol Unit and Camden Arts Centre in London, FACT in Liverpool, the Turner Prize at Tramway in Glasgow and IKON gallery in Birmingham.

Cass Art has partnered with Sky Arts on their annual Portrait Artist of the Year and Landscape Artist of the Year series, providing the world’s best materials for the participating artists to tackle the painting challenge. The winner of each series receives £500 of Cass Art product to help them develop their practice.

Cass Art has teamed up with Partners to run interactive exhibitions in the Art Spaces, engaging audiences across the UK. Exhibitions have included ABC Glasgow for Glasgow International, Limited Editions for Liverpool Biennial, Face to Face featuring artists form the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery, and a UK wide open call exhibition Ab Ex 2016 in partnership with the RA.

Image: The RCA Secret Artists' Party at the Royal College of Art

Looking to the Future…

Cass Art is always looking for new ways to support creatives across the country. With new stores set to open across the UK, they will continue to support the creative industries and fuse new, lifelong partnerships with local communities, artists and organisations.

Cass Art is a proud member of the Creative Industries Federation, and will ensure public art, cultural education and creative industries continue to develop the creativity flowing out of the UK.

Whether you’re 3 or 103, they want everyone to engage with art, no matter their age. Cass Art will look to ensure all ages have accessibility to the best materials and advice.

Mark Cass lives in London with his family and welcomes all feedback on how we can better serve the artist community and keep art education alive across the UK.

Please send your suggestions to  

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