Delfina Entrecanales, a London-based philanthropist who backed the Young British Artists before they drew acclaim, has died at the age of 94. News of her death was announced by her nonprofit, the Delfina Foundation.
The arts patron and her eponymous organization have garnered acclaim for supporting thousands of artists, some of whom have gone on to achieve international fame. Among those to receive support early on from Entrecanales are Mark Wallinger, Tacita Dean, Jane and Louise Wilson, and Martin Creed, all of whom went on to win the Turner Prize, the most esteemed art award in the U.K.
Unlike most philanthropists in the art world, Entrecanales did not collect. Instead, she directed her attention to supporting artists directly by funding them and providing them with studio space.
Born in southern Spain in 1927, Entrecanales came of age in years following the Spanish Civil War. Raised by a family with ties to the nation’s leftist Republican government, she was the heir to a multibillion-dollar fortune her father amassed through the energy and infrastructure conglomerate Acciona.
During civil unrest in the country amid Caudillo’s dictatorship beginning in the late 1930s, her father sent her to Oxford for school. She remained in the U.K. from them on and eventually married her first husband, with whom she had four children.
In 1988, Entrecanales founded the nonprofit the Delfina Studio Trust. In the early 1990s, the organization began offering access to more than 30 subsidized studios spaces for a group of artists. The initiative was the starting point for what would eventually become the Delfina Foundation’s formidable artist residency program.
“Guided by her own principles and strong conviction of ‘no strings attached’ support, she sought solely to offer artists the time and space they required to explore new ideas and develop existing projects,” the foundation said in a statement, describing Entrecanales as being “always unafraid of eschewing conventions” and known for a “relentless energy.”
Among the influential artists who cut their teeth at Delfina Studios are Chantal Joffe, Haegue Yang, Hew Locke, Urs Fischer, and Sonia Boyce, who is slated to represent the U.K. in the forthcoming 2022 Venice Biennale.
“Delfina provided essential support… there is nothing like this now,” said Sacha Craddock, co-curator of a 2015 exhibition at the foundation, “Then is Now,” which brought together works by Dean, Wallinger, and others who got their starts through the residency program.
In 2006, Entrecanales closed the Trust’s studio program. The year after, she founded the London-based Delfina Foundation the following year at the age of 80.
According to its mission statement, the foundation is “dedicated to facilitating artistic exchange and developing creative practice through residencies, partnerships and public programming.” It offers residencies for artists, writers, and curators. In 2020, Entrecanales stepped down from the foundation’s board.
She was awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012 and the Prince of Wales Medal for Philanthropy in the Arts the following year.
Art Dubai, a premier art fair in the Middle East, took to Instagram to pay tribute to the philanthropist, saying, “May her legacy live on.”