The Cass Family History - Supporting Artists for Over a Century


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.


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.


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


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.


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 Islington opened in 2008 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.


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


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’.


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


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.

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

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.


All their staff are artists. Cass Art are proud to have over 180 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.

At Cass Art we have an environment and culture where we want everyone to feel welcome. We believe in creative activities and we are dedicated to promoting these activities for the benefit of everyone, regardless of what you look like, what you believe in, or where you come from. Our mission is to fill this town with artists, and to really achieve this mission a culture where difference is valued and harnessed is the only way.

Our biggest event of 2017: CASS ART FESTIVAL! It was incredibly inspiring to see an eclectic mix of artwork from over 175 of our staff artists and Student Ambassadors under one roof, plus a breadth of creative workshops.


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

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


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.


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

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.