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Delfina Entrecanales, 2013. Photo: Victoria Birkinshaw.
Delfina Entrecanales, 2013. Photo: Victoria Birkinshaw.

Delfina Entrecanales (1927–2022)

Spanish philanthropist Delfina Entrecanales, whose patronage was crucial to the late-1980s rise of the YBAs, or Young British Artists, and who offered direct support to hundreds of artists over a span of more than thirty years, has died at the age of ninety-four. The news was announced by her nonprofit Delfina Foundation. No date or cause of death was given. A vibrant, charismatic woman who preferred to remain out of the limelight, the warm and feisty Entrecanales was known for ultimately being more interested in the recipients of her generosity than in the fruits of their labors, famously declaring to the Financial Times in 2013, “I collect artists, not art!”

Born in 1927 in southern Spain to a wealthy industrialist father and a mother with ties to left-wing political groups, Entrecanales moved to London at the age of nineteen to attend Oxford, eventually marrying a banker, with whom she had four children. Following the dissolution of her marriage in the early 1970s, Entrecanales purchased a farm in the English countryside, and invited members of musical groups including Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, and Mike Oldfield to stay in the numerous cottages that dotted its grounds. Upon discovering the steep costs of aiding musicians, whose profession demanded expensive recording equipment, and acting on the advice of a friend who taught at the Royal Academy of Art in London, Entrecanales instead undertook the support of artists. In 1988, at the age of sixty-two, she founded Delfina Studios in a disused jeans factory in London’s East Stratford, offering rent-free or heavily subsidized studios to a dozen artists. Four years later, she moved the outfit to a former chocolate factory in Bermondsey, where she was able to provide thirty-four studios as well as accommodations for ten international residencies, a gallery, and a restaurant. The space, which quickly became renowned for its creative energy, warmth, and lively community, hosted more than four hundred artists before its 2006 closing. Among these, more than a dozen were nominated for or won the Turner Prize including Martin Creed, Tacita Dean, Mark Wallinger, and Jane and Louise Wilson. Countless others achieved international success, among them Sonia Boyce, Glenn Brown, Thomas Demand, Urs Fischer, Chantal Joffe, William Kentridge, Hew Locke, and Haegue Yang.

In 2007, Entrecanales, then eighty, established the Delfina Foundation in Victoria, London, with eight studios, a library, office spaces, exhibition space, and, in keeping with the sense of community fostered by all Entrecanales’s endeavors, a communal kitchen. Launched with the intent of focusing on artists from the Middle East and North Africa, the foundation assisted illustrious artists including Basel Abbas and Ruanne-Abou Rahme, Abbas Akhavan, Manal al-Dowayan, Ahmet Öğüt, and Wael Shawky. In 2014, the foundation broadened its mandate to become London’s largest provider of international residencies, assembling practitioners from the UK and around the world to investigate common ideas and practices, typically structured around themes, two of which, The Politics of Food and Collecting as Practice, were inspired by  Entrecanales’s abiding belief in hospitality, conviviality and alternative conceptions of “collecting.” Though she departed the foundation’s board in 2020, Entrecanales remained invested in its success, planning for the organization to continue in her absence. The foundation notes that artists and curators associated with Delfina Studios and the foundation will represent Britain, France, UAE, Lithuania, and Oman at the upcoming Venice Biennale with a further six artists affiliated with the organization presenting works in the Central Exhibition.

For her service to the arts, Entrecanales in 2012 was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire; the following year, she received the Prince of Wales Medal for Philanthropy in the Arts. In 2016, she was recognized by the Asociación Mujer Siglo XXI de Empresarias de Bilbao, an association of Spanish female entrepreneurs. Despite these awards, Entrecanales was never motivated by honors but by the prospect of forging friendships with new and interesting people. “Meeting inspiring people, and inspiring other people. My relationship with the artists is why I've done it; all the other things, I don't care about it. I am like a grandmother,” she told The Independent in 2014, “to all of them.”