The Berger Prize is
the leading book prize for art history.
WILLIAM MB BERGER and THE BERGER COLLECTION EDUCATIONAL TRUST
WILLIAM MB BERGER
William Merriam Bart Berger (1925-99) was a Denver-born financier and philanthropist for whom art collecting became a passion in retirement.
When Berger's English studies at Yale were interrupted by war in 1944, he served with the British Eighth Army as a volunteer ambulance driver in Yugoslavia and Italy. His career in finance began in 1950, firstly at the Colorado National Bank which his ancestors founded in 1862, and latterly in his own investment company. Over 40 years Berger was to play a major role in the business life of the region.
William MB Berger in WW2
William Berger served his community in various roles, and latterly his philanthropy was channelled through the two foundations he established, one – the Berger Collection Educational Trust – which has supported the Berger Prize for over 20 years and the other to give young people opportunities to experience the outdoors.
William Berger discovered British art in the 1990s. With his wife Bernadette Joan Johnson Berger (1940-2015) he began to collect art seriously, their interest sparked by an encounter with the Tudor queen, Elizabeth I, on the cover of an auction catalogue. Profiled in 1998, he explained that collecting is “like looking for companies to invest in. You have to have your antennae way out; you have to go through endless reading, and out of a hundred periodicals you’ll find one little golden needle in those thousands of haystacks.” By that point, the collection was reported to comprise "nearly 400 works of art, more than half of them English, with concentrations of Elizabethan, Renaissance, and late medieval art said to rival those of any collection in the country." (The Art Newspaper, 1 April 1998). For the Bergers, British art "represents a heritage that belongs to all of us today, no matter where our forebears came from.” (600 Years of British Painting: The Berger Collection, 1998). In conversation with the writer Geraldine Norman, William Berger was asked: why British art? His cheerful reply, connecting both his professional and private passions was: “Britain’s where our language comes from, where the computer comes from and – hell! – almost everything else.” (The Independent, 5 July 1999).
"We have always believed that art, as well as music, poetry, and literature, refreshes and enriches our lives."
WILLIAM M B BERGER
THE BERGER COLLECTION EDUCATIONAL TRUST
The Berger Collection Educational Trust (BCET) was established by the Berger family "to sponsor educational activities related to the Berger Collection and to the people, culture, and history the artworks portray" (Denver Art Museum website). Two decades after it was placed on permanent loan there, in 2018 the BCET donated the Berger Collection of historic British art to the Denver Art Museum, where it represented the museum's largest gift of European masters in more than half a century.
The Berger Prize was founded in his honour by William Berger's daughter, Katherine MB Berger in 2001, in collaboration with Robin Simon, editor of the British Art Journal, who administered the prize until his retirement in 2023.
For more on the Berger Collection at Denver Art Museum, visit the museum's website.