Art auction career

 4 February 2011

Henry Wyndham has worked at Sotheby's art auction house for 15 years, and has been in the art world for 35 years.

"It all started with collecting, for me. I started collecting stamps and then moved on to collecting weaponry and swords. And then probably at age 14-15, I then got into collecting drawings. So it evolved into that.I think that's where it all came from, really."

Starting work at an auction house

"I did the Sotheby's course in 1973, and that obviously steered me towards the auction houses rather than going to a dealer.

"I also felt that you'd learn more in an auction house than you would as a dealer, because you see so many works of art coming through your hands. I still think that's probably true, it's a great place to learn the skills, you learn so much in an auction house.

"The beauty of auction houses it there is a process, there's a theatre at the end."

"We probably employ 1,300 people worldwide, but they're very very diverse people. We have some people who are extremely academic, who are completely focused on their subject. We then have people who are computer experts, very computer-literate.

"We have run-of-the-mill managers, who have management experience, we have technicians who are good at hanging and packing pictures and other works of art...it really requires everything, all sorts of skills."

Getting into the art world

"I think the first thing if you want to go into the art world is: do you want to be an expert? If the answer is yes, you need to figure out 'Do I want to be an academic or do I want to be a commercial person?'

"There's that fork in the road. In my case, there was no question about it, I wanted to be a commercial person. So the question then is: do you want to be a dealer or an auctioneer?

Being an auctioneer

"I chose the auctioneering route because I felt it suited my situation more, and I like the idea that at an auction, there's a finite process. The picture comes in for sale and the hammer falls and that is the end of the transaction.

"You'd learn more in an auction house than you would as a dealer, because so many works of art come through your hands."

"With dealing, what frustrated me was that you would ask somebody if they wanted to buy the picture, they'd say 'Yes, but I'd like to ask my wife'. The wife would come round and then they'd say 'Well, she doesn't like it', so they wouldn't buy it and the whole process would take too long.

"I think auction houses, the beauty of it is that there is a process, and then there's a theatre at the end. There's a performance and the performance is the final thing. I like the idea of the hammer falling and that being the price that's paid and the end of the story."


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