Arts & Giving | Diary of a Somebody

Oliver Barker

The auctioneer immerses himself in a flurry of Freud-related activity

Oliver Barker

February 07 2012
Oliver Barker

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Today is devoted almost entirely to Lucian Freud. First off, in the galleries I focus my attention on the five fresh-to-market Freud drawings from a single private collection that we will be selling on February 15. Freud’s graphic work is being reappraised, and it’s a great opportunity to see some fantastic works before they embark on a new life in other private collections. I love being able to show these one-off collecting opportunities to our international clients.

I can’t help but feel nostalgic this season, as Lucian himself used to pop into the galleries when he knew we were selling his work. He liked to revisit the moments he captured on canvas, when the paintings or drawings had emerged from private collections. His presence will be sorely missed this year.

Around midday I make my way over to the National Portrait Gallery for the Lucian Freud Memorial Private View. The Memorial is intimate and moving, and because it’s at the National Portrait Gallery, I also have the privilege of previewing the exceptional exhibition devoted to his portraiture. Without doubt this will be one of the cultural highlights of the year, and the show is a revelation.

The exhibition features around 100 of Lucian’s artworks, including the very last painting he worked on, depicting his long-time studio assistant David Dawson, who is an eminent artist and photographer in his own right. As I view the works, I’m reminded that Lucian was a remarkable man and among the most talented painters and draughtsmen to have lived. The exhibition includes portraits of friends, associates, family members, famous cooks, financiers, bookies and scoundrels – all the panoply of Lucian’s rich tapestry of a life. His passing last year has left an artistic, not to mention human, void in the world of art, so to be able to pay tribute to this great man and his immeasurable contribution to art history has felt very poignant.

The highlight of the latter part of the afternoon is meeting the painter Leon Kossoff, who comes into our galleries with a close friend, who is also a great collector of his works. Kossoff’s market is growing currently and he’s come in to see a view he did of the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, Spitalfields, in 1991. He’s visibly moved to see his work again after such a long time. Meeting the creative geniuses behind the works we handle is always such a treat.

Back at Bond Street, the view closes to the public a little later than usual – at 5pm – at which time our creative Special Events department has less than an hour and a half to transform our galleries into one of the most happening art events in town this week. Their heroic efforts allow us to host our VIP collectors between 6.30 and 8.30pm at a reception for the impressionist, modern and contemporary art we will offer for sale over the next eight days.

Every event of this nature is another opportunity to invite a host of clients into our galleries to see the auctions on view. It used to be that the art market was totally western-centric and buyers principally came from Europe and the United States. It is now a truly global affair, with clients coming from as far afield as the Middle East, all the ex-CIS states, China, Indonesia and Malaysia.

I attend the event briefly and then have to run up to my office to change quickly into black tie. I often have several events to attend on the same evening, and tonight is no exception. With two of my colleagues, we are hosting a table at an exclusive sponsors’ dinner for Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery.

We’ve been able to invite nine of among our most important and enthusiastic collectors of Lucian Freud’s work. They not only have the chance to view the show in this private atmosphere, ahead of the official opening, but also get to meet key art-world figures, as well as other Lucian Freud admirers and experts on his work. Sandy Nairne, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, makes an impassioned speech, and it is great to see the show again. Exhibitions of this quality cannot possibly be digested in just one view.

Lastly, but by all means not least, I head down to The Arts Club on Dover Street. It’s the London inauguration of Damien Hirst’s spot paintings exhibition, part of a show that is concurrently on at all 11 global branches of the Gagosian Gallery. I resist the temptation to stay too late, as at 8.30am tomorrow morning I will be hosting a Sotheby’s breakfast at the Royal Academy of Arts, where we have arranged for 60 key collectors to be given a private tour of the David Hockney landscape exhibition by the curator. These “Sotheby’s Preferred” events are bespoke opportunities which exclusively allow our most active and serious collectors to gain VIP access to the best exhibitions at museums and galleries across the globe. With that in mind – and the fact that it’s our Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on Wednesday, during which I’ll be executing telephone bids for a number of my clients – I’m conscious of the need to save some energy. So I decide to call it a day and make my way home.

It’s been an exceptionally busy past week, but things are looking positive for our sales ahead, and the interest we’ve had during the view has been really encouraging. The sales have been months in the making; we have sourced the works, catalogued and travelled them internationally and finally shown them to collectors on home territory. As auctioneers and specialists, our pre-sale efforts are nearly over and ultimately the success of the sale rests on how the auctions play out this week and next. This combination of careful preparation, the theatre of the auction itself and the euphoria that can follow a great success is what makes my rôle at Sotheby’s so exciting and rewarding.

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