Anthony Crichton-Stuart is director at dealer Agnews. The 200-year old business was bought by former Christie’s specialist Crichton-Stuart, with backing from investors including Boston collector and investor Cliff Schorer, in 2014.
An historic name is important to Agnews for several reasons.
First off, it gives potential new buyers a confidence to enter our field with a gallery that has an established track record, particularly one that has done business with major international museums.
Our history and legacy also allows us to compete evenly with major auction houses, since (we would argue) our brand is as strong and historic as theirs.
With an increasing gravitation towards ‘big brands’ in all aspects of life, it can only help to be one ourselves. Many of today’s collectors seem to want to buy brand names from established branded companies, and we in the Old Master field need to react positively and proactively to this phenomenon.
In this respect, there is an argument that the concept of ‘connoisseurship’ in the Old Master world should be made more accessible to some of the new and younger buyers in today’s art market, many of whom may have less of a classical education.
While not arguing in favour of dumbing down this connoisseurship, it should perhaps be made a little less elitist.
Finally, in the 19th and early 20th centuries Agnews was a dealer not just in Old Masters, but what was at the time contemporary art, particularly the work of the Pre-Raphaelites and other British 19th century painters.
This fact allows us to more easily bridge the gap between the old and the new today and gives relevance to the concept that we are both old and modern art dealers.
Stephan Ludwig is CEO and founder of books specialist Forum Auctions. He launched the firm in June 2016 with specialists from established firm Bloomsbury Auctions.
We operate in a fast-changing service industry and I believe that currency of brand has now overtaken brand heritage. Buyers are responsive to quality of product expertise and presentation, service and post-sale fulfilment.
Some years ago these features would have been synonymous only with established heritage brands. But now clients’ expectations of buying at auction have changed and they welcome our move closer to a ‘retail shopping’’ experience.
We started Forum Auctions in 2016 from scratch without an existing client base. It was the strong reputation of our key specialists, our technology infrastructure and the visibility afforded by the myriad of online art platforms that short-circuited what would historically have taken years to achieve.
In my view, and putting to one side the leading global auction brands, the key enduring value in a heritage brand is the breadth of its historical trading data and how this is commercially applied.
Naturally I wouldn’t ‘say no’ to having a 200-year old brand, but it is not an essential part of our business plan. We have executed over £9m in sales since our first auction on July 13, 2016.