Speak­ing vol­umes

Three new pub­li­ca­tions chron­i­cle the his­tory of the world’s lead­ing art busi­ness and the Mod­ern Bri­tish mar­ket con­tin­ues to bloom

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market -

Fol­low­ing Turner—30 vol­umes and ris­ing—the great­est stretch on my book­shelves is oc­cu­pied by the auc­tion busi­ness and, within that, Christie’s is the un­doubted leader. i am miss­ing two of the first his­to­ries, H. C. Mar­il­lier’s 1926 Christie’s 1766–1925 and Denys Sut­ton’s Christie’s Since the War (1958), but, oth­er­wise, my run of his­to­ries and mem­oirs is fairly com­plete: Percy Col­son, A Story of Christie’s (1950); John Her­bert, In­side Christie’s (1990); Arthur grimwade, Sil­ver for Sale (1994); Brian Sewell, Out­sider (2011) and Out­sider II (2012); and now three 250th an­niver­sary vol­umes.

Rep­e­ti­tion is un­avoid­able, but all have dif­fer­ent flavours and view­points and each of the lat­est adds value to the whole. The of­fi­cial an­niver­sary book is Go­ing Once: 250 Years of Cul­ture, Taste and Col­lect­ing at Christie’s (Phaidon, £39.95) (Fig 2), a neil Macgre­gor-like se­lec­tion of 250 ob­jects. Hid­den Gems by Sarah Hue-wil­liams and Ray­mond San­croft-baker (Uni­corn Press, £35) (Fig 3) cel­e­brates col­lec­tors and their jewels that have of­ten passed through the rooms many times. Charles Hindlip’s An Auc­tion­eer’s Lot: Tri­umphs and Dis­as­ters at Christie’s (Third Mil­len­nium Pub­lish­ing, £30) (Fig 4) gives the view from the ros­trum and treads, dis­creetly, be­hind the scenes.

nat­u­rally, there are many more than 250 won­der­ful ob­jects in Go­ing Once, as it would be im­pos­si­ble to match one to ev­ery year, but it pro­vides a stim­u­lat­ing guide to chang­ing taste. i al­ways find it dif­fi­cult to write about jewels, un­less set in colour­ful his­to­ries—there are few words in facets and carats—but the au­thors of Hid­den Gems, a free­lance gem­mol­o­gist and the for­mer Euro­pean di­rec­tor of the depart­ment, man­age to make even dumb stones speak. of course, they also have ex­cel­lent sto­ries and char­ac­ters to play with. Above all, after long ca­reers, they are still en­chanted by the beau­ti­ful things with which they work.

Lord Hindlip, oth­er­wise Charlie All­sopp, is more in than out­sider, and han­dles the im­posters’ tri­umph dis­as­ter with Ki­pling-es­que aplomb (al­though it is Bel­loc’s ‘There’s noth­ing worth the wear of win­ning/but laugh­ter and the love of friends’ that he takes as a motto). At times, one wishes for a lit­tle less dis­cre­tion, as he al­lowed him­self in his speech from the ros­trum at the book launch, but this is an in­valu­able ac­count of a mo­men­tous half cen­tury for the art world. His 40 years at Christie’s took him from the Front Counter to the chair­man­ship of Christie’s in­ter­na­tional, by way of launch­ing the depart­ment for coun­try­house-con­tents sales and the firm’s Amer­i­can op­er­a­tion and he brought down the ham­mer on many out­stand­ing works. if, some­times, he gives the im­pres­sand

Fig 1: Still-life of Tulips and Hy­acinths. £265,600. Figs 2–4 be­low: Three new books about Christie’s

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