Style | Swellboy

Swellboy on… televised auctions

An afternoon of white tea, anchovy toast and a bidding frenzy in front of the computer

Swellboy on… televised auctions

Image: Brijesh Patel

February 23 2013
Nick Foulkes

The recent art auction season in London has left me feeling quite galvanised. Through the miracle of the internet, all the action can be beamed to my computer. I have tried internet gambling and trust me, this is much, much better. It is better even than watching the racing. I just pull up a chair, light a cigar (something such as a vintage Cuban Davidoff – nothing too strong, just enough to calm my nerves), pour myself a cup of the finest silver needle white tea, lay in a few slices of anchovy toast and then settle down for an afternoon’s entertainment.

I cannot tell you how much fun it is watching the stuff get sold. Christie’s Telly, as I am reliably informed it is not known, is like QVC for rich people, with all the drama and indirect glamour that comes from watching people spend more money than I will see over the course of many dozen lifetimes.

I suppose it is my addictive personality, but I find myself getting quite caught up in the excitement and light comedy of it all: the slightly Franglais accent as the auctioneer does his best to get his vocal chords around a lengthy, unfamiliar title, the witty badinage, the theatricality and above all the consummate skill with which the auctioneer, like a virtuoso conductor, pulls together the various strands to create a work of supreme entertainment. “I will take £115,000 but not £112,000,” said in an admonitory manner to a rascally cheapskate. “I can see you, sir, at the back of the room,” as one imagines the wildly gesticulating collector fearful of getting left out of the bidding frenzy. “And a new bidder from Germany,” demonstrating the effortless internationality of it all. “All against you in the room; I have a million online.” How modern.

It is only a matter of time before I log in to bid myself, and leaving the computer to refresh my pot of tea return to find that one of my children has sneaked in and spent 20-odd million on a Modigliani.

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