After a brief stint as an actor, he began his working life as a porter at Bonhams in June 1973 before taking “the biggest gamble of my life” and becoming a dealer in 1980, which he did for 30 years.
He then turned to auctions, working with John Nicholson’s from 2012 before launching his own firm in 2020 with Henny Smith (Parker Fine Art Auctions).
Parker says: “I loved the drama and unpredictability of auctions and had a lightbulb moment during lockdown, when I realised I could never retire. So I decided to set up my own auction house, focusing solely on pictures and offering low commission rates [vendors pay just £10 per lot].”
Looking back over his career, Parker says his most memorable painting was one he bought in 1995: a portrait of Pope Clement VI by Sebastiano del Piombo, in a poor state which he bought “for a song”.
He then sold it at “Christie’s for £380,000 and it was bought seven years later by the Getty Museum for an eight-figure sum”. He bought a racehorse with some of the profit which he called del Piombo and which “did rather well!”
Parker’s interest in pictures may have stemmed from his childhood: “My father was a royal photographer and I was surrounded by beautiful images. I had a period of deafness in childhood – a time of visual learning which perhaps helped hone my ability to spot a great picture.”
Phone boxes and long drives
Reminiscing about how different his early days as a dealer were to the modern world of online bidding, he says: “I drove thousands of miles a week, viewing auctions all over the UK. I’d go to the bank once a week and stock up on 10p coins which I used in phone boxes at every service station to call auction houses, leaving bids and asking for results.”
Parker celebrated his 50th year in the art business in style with a party at his saleroom in Farnham, Surrey.