My Life’s Work: Jane Beattie, head of the Ireland office of Bonhams auction house

‘I liaise with specialists across a broad range of disciplines, many of whom are leaders in their fields of expertise’

Jane Beattie: ‘Occasionally, we come across precious objects that people have lived with for many years and disregarded. Finding these and breaking the exciting news is perhaps my favourite aspect of the job’

Jane Beattie: ‘Occasionally, we come across precious objects that people have lived with for many years and disregarded. Finding these and breaking the exciting news is perhaps my favourite aspect of the job’

 

Founded in 1793, Bonhams is a privately owned British auction house and one of the world’s oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. Bonhams has 60 specialist departments and conducts 400 annual sales in London, New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Los Angeles; its Ireland office is on Molesworth Street, Dublin 2.

What do you do?
My role at Bonhams is to source appropriate pieces of fine and decorative art and collectibles from within Ireland and Northern Ireland for sale through our international network of salerooms. I also guide Bonhams’ Irish clients, both buyers and sellers, through the auction sale process to ensure that their experience with us is as positive and seamless as possible.

An important part of the job is to find and develop relationships with new clients as our business grows in Ireland. I’m a generalist valuer and my role requires a competent knowledge of various areas. I liaise on a daily basis with specialists across a broad range of disciplines, many of whom are leaders in their fields of expertise. My own personal interests and tastes are broad, so I really enjoy this exchange. Because markets are emerging and changing all the time, it is very stimulating to work across the board as I do.

What is your background?
I’m from Co Tyrone and went to the Royal School in Armagh. I’m a fully accredited arts surveyor and a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and have a degree in Spanish with English from Trinity College Dublin and a degree in fine art appraisal from the University of Southampton. I’m a fluent Spanish speaker. I regard myself as very lucky to work in an industry that I love. The art market has changed almost beyond recognition since the beginning of my career and continues to evolve, sometimes in curious and surprising directions. This makes the job both exciting and challenging. It is a particularly interesting time to develop a business in Ireland, where confidence among collectors is recovering and tastes are veering away from the traditions of the past 20 years.

How did you get into the business?
I joined Adam’s, the fine art auctioneers in Dublin, in 2001 and became the firm’s first female associate director in 2005. I left in 2010 – for a change of scene – and moved to a commercial art gallery , the Oliver Sears Gallery in Molesworth Street which gave me a change of market perspective. Then I joined Bonhams in 2011. What advice would you give collectors/investors? Spend as much as you can afford – with an emphasis on quality and condition. As part of company policy, Bonhams does not offer investment advice, but anyone considering art investment should do their homework and take professional advice, as in any other investment field. After all, you wouldn’t invest in the stock market as a novice, without a sound financial adviser. It’s worth keeping an eye on art from emerging markets, such as Indian and Islamic art and contemporary art from the Middle East and South America.

Career highlight?
Nowadays most clients have a relatively clear idea of the value and sale potential of the works of art they own. Occasionally, however, we still come across precious objects that an individual or family has lived with for many years and has disregarded. Finding these and breaking the exciting news, is perhaps my favourite aspect of the job. Some years ago, I found a beautiful Chinese jade libation cup – a type of drinking vessel used on ceremonial occasions – in a house in the southeast of Ireland. The cup had been in the family for generations. The client had owned it since her childhood and never imagined that in her lifetime it could be worth a six-figure sum. She consigned it to Bonhams and it sold at auction in London for £85,000. She was thrilled.

What do you personally collect, and why?
I really enjoy scouting salerooms and galleries for unusual objects. I love the elegant aesthetic of Japanese art. One of my most treasured belongings is a Meiji period red lacquer bowl, very simply decorated with gilded chrysanthemums. My most recent purchase was Bird’s Nest In Resin, a sculpture by Sasha Sykes, the Co Carlow-based Irish artist and furniture designer, from an exhibition of her work at the Oliver Sears Gallery. What would you buy if money were no object? A palazzo in Venice to house a fabulous collection of pictures and objects – something along the lines of the collection assembled by the American heiress Peggy Guggenheim. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection – housed in an 18th-century palace on the Grand Canal in Venice – is one of my favourite museums in the world. What is your favourite work of art? It’s a group: Goya’s Black Paintings in the Prado in Madrid. They were never intended to be shown publicly, but were salvaged from the walls of his home. He painted them late in life when he was actually at his happiest, despite having suffered from a severe illness, which left him deaf. They are so powerful, one can’t help but be incredibly moved when surrounded by them and they seem to resonate with the din of all humanity that Goya could no longer hear.

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