Luxury brands are entering the crowded world of the art award at a rate of knots, offering intelligent cultural prizes with great intent, thoughtful outreach, and high profiles. Max Mara’s Art Prize for Women is in its seventh edition; the Loewe Craft Prize has just turned two; and Swarovski has been crowning ‘designers of the future’ since 2015. Now in its 27th edition, the Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage Award was ahead of the curve.

In its 109 year history, the heritage pen purveyor, accessories master and latterly, haute horologist, has positioned itself firmly in the art world. If you go to the Montblanc HQ in Hamburg, there’s art everywhere, from the minute you enter the building. ‘And it’s not art that’s been bought from a museum, or loaned from somewhere – it’s art that they’ve commissioned,’ explain co-chairmen of the Montblanc Cultural Foundation Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath. Art filters down into its very make-up. ‘A writing pen is so personal,’ Fellrath adds. ‘It allows you to make a direct connection to something visual, to something that is actually really in you. I think the arts have the same philosophy.’

Each one of Montblanc’s highly crafted pens is an artistic expression. Take its latest elaborate collection, which pays homage to Ludwig II, the so-called ‘mad swan king’ of Bavaria, and devoted patron of the composer Richard Wagner. Each pen is embellished with an arching swans neck clasp.

The Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage Award was held in the former royal palace of the Wittelsbach monarchs of Bavaria, Munich

This year, the German branch of the prize (which is annually given to patrons of particular local and international note in 17 locations around the world) was awarded to Jürgen Wesseler. Founder and director of a small German exhibition space called Bremerhavener Kabinett für aktuelle Kunst, he has curated exhibitions with international contemporary artists like Gerhard Richter, Sol Le Witt, Sigmar Polke, and Joseph Beuys, and is credited with bringing many important works to Germany for the first time.

‘This award is very timely for Jürgen,’ explains Fellrath. ‘Not only did he just turn 80, but Bremerhavener Kabinett has been around for an incredible 50 years – not that you’d know it, talking to him. He has always been so humble. He’s one of those genius people without realising it – he followed his own conviction. There was no advertising, and he still doesn’t really have a website for the organisation. It was always done for the pure passion.’

Sought-after curatorial duo Fellrath and Bardaouil took the reigns of the award two years ago, and have played a part in its transference from a broad, cultural award (which honoured patrons in the realms of art, dance, theatre and music) into one dedicated to the visual arts. Working hand in hand with Montblanc, they have keenly and cleverly fine-tuned the award’s brief, emphasising its global, inter-connective nature. Fellrath, explains, ‘We want to create a best practice model for patrons globally; a network of pioneering people who enable art making in the most inspiring and innovative ways.’