Published: March 1, 2022
The antiques profession is large and varied enough that there are opportunities for people to try on different hats over the course of their career. After spending 15 years at Christie’s, where he worked his way up from an intern in the Valuations Department to head of Decorative Arts, Giles Forster has jumped ship to Adrian Alan, Ltd., a dealer of Nineteenth Century decorative arts in London’s Mayfair. When word of his new role reached our ears, we took advantage of the moment to ask him what prompted the change and where he wants to go from here.
As an auction house specialist, there are probably some areas in which you have a particular affinity, and/or area(s) of enhanced expertise. Can you describe some of your interests?
After graduating from university, I did a bit of part time portering at a regional auction house near where I grew up in South West England, Lawrences of Crewkerne. I’d always enjoyed art and architecture; as a child I was obsessed with National Trust properties and other English Country Houses. However, it was carrying furniture that made me first think there might be a viable career in the art world. I learned that the heavier furniture was generally more valuable, though this is not an analysis that holds up to much scrutiny…! What I really enjoyed was meeting and dealing with all the different clients, local dealers and characters who bought and sold. From this meager experience, I was lucky to springboard to an internship with Christie’s, at their King Street headquarters, in the Valuations Department, where I learned a huge amount about the inventory process by doing lots of photocopying and odd jobs before I was able to make a move to the furniture department. As becoming of my experience, English furniture was my first interest, however there was no job available in that department, but I did secure a position firstly as an administrator then Junior Specialist from 2007 in the Nineteenth Century furniture department. This became my specialty and I came to love it more than ‘brown furniture,’ because the Nineteenth Century is full of the most wonderful and whacky designs, full of drama and color, and is an amazing melting pot of styles.
During your tenure at Christie’s, are there pieces you consider “career highs”?
I remember for my first auction with the Nineteenth Century department in September 2005 we sold this amazing chess table by Elkington which has been exhibited at the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle. It sailed past its £50,000-80,000 estimate to sell for £142,000. I then had the good fortune to secure if for sale again in the Exceptional Sale in 2014 when it realized a world record £1,986,500 (https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-5812488)
What prompted your move from auction to gallery?
I felt I had achieved a lot at Christie’s and wanted a new challenge. I had the enviable position of leading the Nineteenth Century decorative arts market in the auction world and wanted to use my experience to work from the other side, as an antique dealer.
What drew you to Adrian Alan?
I met Adrian early in my career at Christie’s through his dealings with the auction house, and we quickly built a rapport. Adrian is a long established and respected dealer, a world leader in the Nineteenth Century decorative arts, with a great feel for the market. When he asked me, my joining him felt like a natural next step.
What is Adrian Alan’s niche in the antiques field?
Established in 1964, Adrian Alan Ltd. is a global leader in Nineteenth Century decorative arts, and the flagship gallery at 66-67 South Audley Street in London’s Mayfair showcases one of the finest and extensive collections of antiques available anywhere in the world, offering expert advice on collecting, interior decoration and all aspects of the buying process.
What are some truly exceptional masterpieces the firm has handled?
We are conscious that we are only fleeting custodians of the works of art we handle and being sensitive to our client’s privacy we don’t publicize sales. One piece that I’ve much admired since joining is a magnificent replica of Louis XV’s Bureau du Roi, which was made by Beurdeley of Paris and exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Excitingly, my research has discovered a previously unknown provenance, that it belonged to George Jay Gould (1864-1923), son of Jay Gould — one of the so called ‘Robber barons’ of the Gilded Age — and was at Georgian Court, the estate Gould built with his wife, the actress Edith Mary Kingdon Gould, at Lakewood, N.J. — which is now the site of Georgian Court University.
Describe your new position and how you’ll integrate with the team there?
I have joined Adrian and my fellow directors, Hayley Jacobs and James Graham working at our 66-67 South Audley Street gallery in the heart of London’s Mayfair district. I work researching acquisitions and on after-sale care to ensure that our customers get the best service. I also enjoy inspecting acquisitions at our warehouse, working with restorers and, most of all, viewing auctions and visiting clients.
In your announcement, Adrian Alan is quoted as saying you embody “a new generation of specialists with the skill and passion to…develop the market.” What are your (first) goals towards achieving that?
Adrian Alan has always adapted, and central to the success of any gallery is that, as a dealer, you have to be responsive to changes in trends and tastes. In a similar way an auction house specialist must curate their sales to reflect supply and demand. I look forward to working with Adrian to source great works of art, one area I am keen to explore more is sculpture which, in the Nineteenth Century, encompasses so much — from neoclassicism to modernism — and is already a strengthening market attracting much interest from collectors and galleries who have in the past focused more on Old Masters.
—Madelia Hickman Ring
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