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