Published: October 16, 2018
Sandra Germain is co-owner of Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers, a Connecticut auction house occupying an important niche in the market for Nineteenth and Twentieth Century American and European paintings, sculpture and works on paper. Germain joined Shannon’s soon after it was founded by Gene and Mary Anne Shannon in 1997. We spoke with the former advertising and marketing executive as she was gearing up for the big fall sales of American art, which Shannon’s kicks off with an auction at its Milford salesroom on October 25.
What was it like growing up in the art business?
Exciting. My stepfather, Gene Shannon, who started as a dealer, would get a phone call about a painting and jump in the car. Or another dealer would show up at the house late at night. I have vivid memories of Gene finding a painting by Frederic Church and hiding it in my closet until he could get it cleaned.
What did you learn from Gene?
He taught me how to really look at a piece to determine age, quality, condition and marketability. These are not things you can learn from a book. He once said to me, “You will be dealing with truck drivers and billionaires. You may not know who is who, so treat everyone the same.”
What did you teach him?
I’ve taught Gene about how to diversify the business and how to use technology to market the business in a broader way. Overall, we have a lot in common. We share ideas about principles, honesty and treating our clients as the valuable assets they are. At the end of the day, our reputation for those qualities is what has kept us in this business for 21 years.
For which artists is Shannon’s particularly well known?
We hold the current record price at auction for Louis Remy Mignot, Richard Hayley Lever, Luigi Lucioni, Mary Bradish Titcomb and Alice Mattern, to name a few artists. We’ve also done extremely well with paintings by Dale Nichols and Edward Moran. When you have the high price, you tend to get offered more works by that artist. We also have a targeted marketing program that allows us to contact the specific buyers of an artist’s works.
Is Shannon’s chiefly an estates auctioneer?
No. We work with brokers, individuals, corporations and other institutions to sell art. While we work with estate professionals, we do not handle entire estates because we concentrate on fine art. We focus more on finding quality consignments that we know will be attractive in our market, as opposed to wholesaling items when they become available.
How has the internet changed your business?
We used to mail more than 2,000 detailed photographs for each auction. Our website has made that function obsolete. The same goes for condition reports, frames, etc. The internet has sped up our research process by about 90 percent. Our international sales have increased dramatically because we reach more clients. The internet has increased our market share and allowed us to sell a more diverse range of works.
Will online-only sales become a bigger part of Shannon’s business?
We still believe that we are in a tactile business. People want to see the art, and we feel it’s important to have previews, phone conversations and a saleroom available. The overwhelming majority of our clients still prefer the printed catalog, so we will continue to produce one. Our online only sales will grow and will continue to augment our major auctions. We will also continue to use the online platform for single-owner sales.
Proudest professional moment?
In 2011, two days before our catalog deadline, I was invited to Washington DC to evaluate a collection at a nonprofit organization that needed to raise money quickly. I spent three days there, choosing the 56 lots I thought we could sell for them successfully. The collection was primarily Pop art, so it was a whole new world for Shannon’s at the time. The 56 paintings grossed $1.4 million as part of our Spring 2011 auction, making it the strongest sale in Shannon’s history.
Highlights for your October 25 auction?
We have a beautiful oil on canvas by Willard Leroy Metcalf, an artist who was remarkable in his ability to capture the unique atmosphere of the New England landscape. Irving Ramsey Wiles’ “The Loiterers” was painted in New York but like the Metcalf painting shows the influence of French Impressionism. “The Winning Yacht” by Edward Moran is a jaw-dropping example by the artist. You really get a sense of the excitement of the race. We also have a classic seascape by William Trost Richards, a favorite artist of mine.
Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers is at 49 Research Drive in Milford, Conn. For more information on Shannon’s October 25 auction, visit www.shannons.com or call 203-877-1711.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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