Out with a whimper

This may seem like I’m dancing on someone’s grave, apropos my last blog entry. I’m really not, and indeed feel a bit wistful when I read the small print missive in the last of the last Christie’s South Kensington catalog, for an interiors sale scheduled for July 19, ‘Thank you to all our loyal clients for your bids over the last 42 years.’ This, below the final two lots- a set of 12 Georgian design armchairs and a long Regency design table, both of which were in use until the place is shuttered in the CSK board room. Will a Christie’s South Ken provenance count for much in the years to come? I wonder.

For the moment, though, the sales rooms in London and the Home Counties seem to expect a hole absent CSK that they seek to fill. About a year ago, Bonham’s shed their entire English furniture department, only to have those Bonhams refugees band together to form their own sales in Moorpark, under the trade style Pedestal. They probably are chagrined to find that their former employer has then re-added fine English furniture to their schedule, with Bonham’s inaugural European Collections sale earlier this month featuring a goodly bit of goodly English furniture.

In fact, most of the sales rooms, even as far afield as Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury are hosting fine furniture sales in the next few weeks to coincide with the remaining London fairs- Olympia and Masterpiece-  that traditionally cap the season. Nearer to town, Dreweatts will have a fine furniture sale, but I’m not certain if this will be helmed by new owner Mark Law. In an occurrence that surprised those of us in the trade, it was announced a short while ago that a group of investors headed by Mark had acquired the auction business and what’s left of Mallett from the former owners the Fine Art Auction Group. Not surprised that the owners- following on disastrous operating results and presumably very short of the ready- needed to sell, but that Mark, although with a former connection to Dreweatts would then so near to the fiasco that was his disastrous ownership of Partridge Fine Art be able to then syndicate another prominent acquisition. Who knows? Desperate times, desperate measures, I guess.

Back to the beginning, nothing will take the place of CSK and the enjoyment Keith McCullar and I had of viewing and sitting through sales. Mind you, though in the second rank compared to King Street, quite a bit of the material offered was anything but second rate. I remember vividly bidding up to £35,000 a large rococo portrait that I felt sure was by Nattier, and, when I chickened out, it was knocked down to a phone bidder. As the portrait was for a client, I then rang him, said it was sold, and was then given instruction by him to acquire it if I could for substantially more than I bid. Mid sale, I then pulled my friend and CSK stalwart Midgie Coyle aside, told her what I was after, and she then phoned the buyer. As it happened, it was the redoubtable dealer Bernheimer in Munich, who then graciously agreed to sell the painting to me- plus a modest markup- so, thanks to the help of Christie’s, we ended with smiles all around.

In nostalgic mood, I could go on and on, recalling, for instance, the redoubtable podium skills of retired CSK directors-cum-auctioneers Philip Duckworth and Hugh Edmeades, moving the pace of sales along saving the bums of those perched on perennially uncomfortable chairs in the front or hanger sales rooms, but never failing to wring the last penny out of potential buyers. Through long experience, they did though, know who the buyers were, and who it was that had wandered in from the Old Brompton Road to get out of the rain.

Yes, I know my last entry was a bit snarky about the fate of Christie’s South Ken, but now the event is upon us, I freely admit, I’ll miss them.

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