Last week I attended my second auction at Sotheby’s. Oh, did I not mention the first one? Back in May I went to an afternoon sale of Objets d’Art et Mobilier, where I got to wander around the building taking notes, feeling positively giddy that they let anyone (literally, anyone) attend any auction they want. Even silly American writers who aren’t going to bid on anything and are there for book research! I doubt they would have let me in the door had they known the premise of my book is that, in a nutshell, an employee was able to make off with fourteen pieces of art over the course of two years from their private sales division and no one caught on. Ahem. I promise I wasn’t casing the joint.

The first auction was to get my toes wet in preparation for the big evening sale I attended last week, Art Impressioniste et Moderne. I wanted to figure out how everything worked with the first, smaller sale, and get all my googly-eyed staring out of the way, so that I could attend the big auction and look cool, casual, and like I belonged. I’m not sure I was successful (when people are tossing around €8-12 MILLION on art, it’s hard to act unfazed), but having now attended two auctions I feel like a bit of an insider. The main attraction of the Art Impressioniste et Moderne sale was a painting by Amadeo Modigliani. Here’s a video Sotheby’s made prior to the sale about the painting of Paul Alexandre, Modigliani’s first patron:

Contrary to what I expected, and I think what the general perception of auctions in pop culture has lead us to believe, the auctioneer never moved at lightning speed. There was ample time for each lot, to allow for bids made by phone for the clients who were either international or wished to remain anonymous, bids in the room, and bids made online. Yes, you can bid on almost any Sotheby’s auction online. The auctioneer made having to juggle all those factors look effortless, unhurried. He was patient with each of the phone representatives (of whom he knew every name) as they tried to talk their clients into bidding higher. He slipped back and forth between French and unaccented English fluidly the entire sale. He cracked jokes! People in the got up and left whenever they felt like it, or crossed the aisle to talk to fellow bidders. I imagine the art world is small enough that everyone sort of knows everyone. Buyer’s representative, gallery owners, collectors, they all see enough of each other at these auctions that they almost become social events.

Auctions don’t play a major role in my book, but I needed access to the building to get enough of the details right, and while they let the general public attend auctions, I don’t know if they would have let me just wander in without a reason. So I took as many mental notes as possible; the stairs were different than I imagined them. The offices are all contained on one floor. The layout is different, the lobby doors swing open both ways and are heavy as hell. All of those little details that I wouldn’t have known had I not gone, and that I wanted to get right for the story.

It was one of the neatest experiences I’ve had since being here, and I really recommend going to an auction, if you can. Despite the myths surrounding them, there is no way you can scratch your nose or cough at an inopportune moment and end up buying a $3 million dollar sculpture. Everyone has to pre-register to bid, and they don’t hand out paddles to any old schmo.

Other Paris Details of Note: JAMAL arrives this afternoon! We are driving to Honfleur tomorrow morning, on the Normandy coast, and staying for the weekend. It’s considered “one of the cradles of Impressionism” and was the birthplace to painter Eugène Boudin. I can’t wait! (Also, Driving on French highways. Going to be an adventure!)

21 thoughts on “Sotheby’s

  1. And so, the saga of an American Girl in Paris continues. This time with the most perfect of all fiancés, Jamal.
    Unfortunately, the video didn’t come through.

    1. Haha, love the title you’re giving this trip. Pretty accurate, n’est-ce pas? I edited it to include the video! Not sure what happened with the code, but it should work now! xo

  2. Je crois que ça doit être très excitante ! c’est un privilège d’être témoin direct d’une vente comme ça!
    Mais je ne comprends pas pourquoi tu n’est le pas achetée?
    C’est génial, Jamal à Paris!! Je te souhaite un super weekend en Normandie avec ton cher fiancé ! xo

    1. Teehee, si j’avais €12 million, je voudrais acheter le plus grand appartment à Paris, avec assez d’argent pour des croissants et des mobiliers et de fromage, haha. ;) xoxo

    1. Yeah! There’s a whole section of their website you can livestream most of the auctions and bid right along with them! Crazy! xo

  3. i absolutely love Modigliani. one of my all-time favorites. ever. in the world. love. love. love. i have a thing for portraitures, and well. this is one of my favorites of his. though, i must admit i’ve probably said that about most of his work. though i do have a few i could say with certainty are not my favorites.

    it sounds so very sophisticated to go to a sotheby’s auction! i’m not sure i’d be up for it. i’d feel like such an impostor (especially alone! you are so brave!). but i am really excited to read about it in your book. and find out which paintings have been stolen and who stole them and . . . xo

    1. I love learning that about you! I had no idea :) But I completely get it, and seeing the painting close up during the preview exhibit the day before the auction, I fell even more in love, too.

      It sounds very sophisticated, but they let riff-raff like me in the door, and people’s cell phones go off in the middle, and it’s all much more casual than you’d think. I bet the evening sales at the NYC location are a bit more high-brow and sophisticated. xoxo

  4. That has to be unbelievably exciting to attend a Sotheby’s auction. I appreciate the fact that they allow the public to attend such events. It would be enough to just appreciate the artwork and witness the bidding even if not in the position to purchase.

    Your novel’s plot sounds intriguing. I look forward to reading the finished product. Also, forgive me if my inference is misplaced, but from your snippet of the book a while back and the reveal of an employee stealing art work it sounds faintly reminiscent of The Thomas Crown Affair, the remake of course. In this case an employee instead of a wealthy financier.

    1. My thoughts exactly!! It was definitely a unique experience that I don’t think enough people know about as being an option for them. I’m going to be a door-to-door salesman now of getting people to attend auctions. They’re pretty interesting!

      Your inference is totally on-the-nose, no apology necessary! I love the Pierce Brosnan version of The Thomas Crown Affair. Probably one of my top ten favorites. My dad showed it to me when I was younger and I think that, combined with our weekly trips to the museum, really set something off in me that is all coming intro fruition with this book. Of course, the capers in my novel are no where near as elaborate as the movie (no smoke bombs or helicopters or Russians) but the same greedy element is there. I love that you made that connection, makes me happy! xoxo

  5. I have been loving reading about all your adventures in Paris over the past couple of months. I would just love to have such an adventured as I too am mad about Paris. (who isn’t?!)
    Auctions are fun. I’ve been to a few furniture auctions – but nothing on such a grand scale as Sothebys. What a glorious experience.

    1. Thanks, Stephi!! This is definitely something I recommend to everyone and anyone even thinking about a trip like this — Paris is worth it. I don’t want to get too reflective because my time here isn’t quite over yet, but I will definitely do a post at the end about the experience as a whole, where I will espouse the virtues of taking the plunge and the risk. Promise! xoxo

  6. Erin, that story line, I am hooked! Thanks for sharing your experience with me. It sounds as I would have imagined it (er, as I have seen it in heist movies). Except, you did debunk the myth I had in my head about the scratching your nose and being mistaken for a bidder ;-) Oh I do love a road trip, hope you and Jamal have a great time.

    1. Haha, everyone has the same impression! The major auction houses are pros, though, but you figure there has to be some truth to the legend if it’s so widely held. It had to have happened to one poor soul a long time ago! Gah! xo

  7. Oh please, please, please tell me there was at least someone like Stephen Fry in Le Divorce???

    1. Le Divorce was so good!! I wish the auction had been as exciting as the Saint Ursula one, thought :) xo

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