Tony Chapman is director of British and Victorian pictures at an international auction house based in London. He is involved in valuing the paintings, cataloguing them and conducting the auctions where they are sold.
What happens at a sale?
At the auction I stand on a rostrum in front of the bidders – it's a bit like going on stage. I have to watch the floor carefully to see who is bidding. Sometimes bids are very subtle - just a nod or even a raised eyebrow. People who can't attend the auction arrange to bid by telephone.
I have to keep all these figures in my head as the auction progresses. As the price of the painting rises, the bidders drop out one by one. When there is only one bidder left, the picture is sold to them and I move on to the next lot.
The pace of auctions is incredibly fast. I usually sell 300 paintings in an auction lasting three hours. At the end of the sale I am exhausted, but that is a sign that it has gone well.
How do you value a painting?
Before the sale, clients bring their pictures in , or I visit them to see the paintings in their own homes. I look very closely at each painting and decide how much I think it will sell for at auction. A lot of things can affect the value of a painting, including condition, subject matter, and at what stage of the artist's career the picture was painted.
What happens next?
If the client decides to go ahead with the sale, I catalogue the picture. That involves doing background research and writing a detailed description. I arrange for the picture to be photographed and it goes into a printed catalogue and onto the our website.
Where do you do your research?
The internet is very useful and I use libraries, like the Witt library at the Courtauld Institute of Art. I can also call on specialist art historians to give their opinion on the picture. It's important to have a good list of contacts in this job.
Research helps me to find out more about the picture and the artist, but it can also give me an idea of potential buyers. For example, if it is a portrait, the sitter may have living relatives who might be interested in buying it.
What are your normal working hours?
I work a normal 36-hour week, although there will be times when I have to operate outside of normal office hours to accommodate customers. As an auctioneer, you may have to work on Saturday.
How did you learn to be an auctioneer?
I was already workings. I applied to be an auctioneer and was given an initial test – I had to conduct a mock auction – so the company could decide if I was worth training. I passed, so for the next six months I came in early one morning a week to conduct a mock auction before starting work. I also used to practice at home and on the bus! The training is very tough, and not many people succeed.
Are you still learning?
Yes, there's always something new to learn in this sort of work. Recently they gave me a week's study leave to learn more about Venetian art in Venice.
What makes a good auctioneer?
It's important to be outgoing. An auctioneer is really a performer and I have to make sure each sale is fast and exciting. Being confident with numbers is essential. You also need to be observant to be aware of all the bids at a sale.
Tony's route to his auctioneer job
- A levels.
- One year working for a fine art gallery.
- HND Business Studies.
- Holiday job as a porter at auction house, but enjoyed it so much he decided to stay.
- Auctioneer training.
Tony's auctioneer tips
- Contact your local auction house and see if they will give you work experience. It will give you an idea of whether you will enjoy the work.
- Have an interest in history and art.
- A foreign language can be a useful qualification as many auction houses do business in Europe.
Auctioneer related jobs
- Museum/art gallery curator
Salary of an auctioneer
- Your income could vary enormously depending on your level of expertise, the area in which you work and the size of your employer or whether you are self employed.
- Starting salaries for someone new to the profession could be £12,000, rising to £20,000 with experience.
- As a specialist auctioneer you can earn up to £50,000.
- No formal qualifications are required to be an antique dealer or auctioneer. There are no full-time courses aimed specifically at entry to these professions.
- Joining a small or medium sized antique dealer's business or auction house as an assistant or a general worker.
- Gaining experience through work in an auction house as a porter, clerk, cataloguer, valuer or auctioneer. This can be supplemented by part-time study for qualifications in subjects such as history of art, fine art or decorative arts.
- Joining one of the larger auction houses like Christie's or Sotheby's who recruit small numbers of graduate trainees each year. You usually need a degree in a subject like fine art or history of art.
- Southampton Institute offers a three year full-time degree course in Fine Arts Valuation.
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