Inside Bonhams
A life in pictures

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 52, Autumn 2017

Page 68

Veronique Scorer describes the thrill of making discoveries and meeting new people to Lucinda Bredin

I remember visiting a retired couple at their bungalow in Buckinghamshire," recalls Veronique Scorer, Head of Pictures at Bonhams Knightsbridge. "The gentleman had inherited a painting after his father's death a few years previously and was keeping it under the bed. It turned out to be a Montagu Dawson that ended up selling for £50,000."

Discoveries like that are at the heart of her work for Scorer. She joined Bonhams in 2009 as a specialist in marine paintings – still one of her great loves. Now Head of Pictures, she oversees everything from Victorian paintings to contemporary prints; topographical paintings to modern British art. Once a year, she presides over the ever-popular East Anglian Picture Sale.

Scorer was born in Bournemouth, on the south coast, to an English father and French mother – who used to dabble in antique-dealing at weekends, something that Scorer describes as a "nice taster" for the buying and selling that lay ahead in her own career. "I used to enjoy helping out, hopping between the antiques shops in different country towns and the fairs in different hotels."

Veronique went on to study mediaeval history at the University of St Andrews, before taking an internship – and then a job – for the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. "My job was essentially to put the Queen's entire collection onto a database for the first time," she says.

"So I was cataloguing a cache of Michelangelo and Leonardo drawings – which, as first jobs go, could have been a lot worse."

A move to London followed, and shortly afterwards Scorer joined Bonhams Knightsbridge. Located on Montpelier Street, a stone's throw from Harrods, Knightsbridge holds around 140 sales a year that are renowned for their broad range and appeal.

As she says, "What struck me from day one here was the friendliness of the place: the way that, despite the central London location, the specialists were so passionate to share their knowledge with the public. For me, Bonhams Knightsbridge has never lost that ambience. We set out to be approachable, so that people dipping their toe into the auction waters don't feel intimidated – I'd like to think we've been pretty successful."

House visits have long been an important part of the job for Scorer, though they hold the odd unwelcome surprise. "There was an old lady in Deal I went to see once," she says. "She was a champion hoarder who had 50 paintings and much else besides in her house, including a world-beating quantity of dust and quite a lot of cats. The carpets clearly hadn't been hoovered for a very long time, yet she still insisted I take my shoes off before crossing the threshold. Mind you," she adds, "the paintings went on to sell for £800,000, so it was a small price to pay."

House visits are one of the great excitements of the job, but because of the internet, images tend first to be shared over email. Does she think there'll come a day when the web removes the need for a physical auction space like Montpelier Street altogether?

"I don't think so. Online certainly has its place. As a means of bringing in new clients, for instance. But most potential buyers – whether they prefer to bid in person, by phone or online – like to see the work in the flesh beforehand. You can understand why: they could be about to spend a lot of money. So we've created a light, modern space where people can look at the works, ask us questions, examine the paintings up close. We get people calling in from all parts of the world, so we know how much the opportunity means to them.

"From my point of view, it's really important to meet our customers face to face, forming relationships with them and building trust through personal contact. There are certain things you can't do with a mouse."

What do you tell people who are new to buying paintings at auction? "I'm always very careful not to offer investment advice – much better to buy with your heart – but Victorian paintings are affordable, the subject matter tends to be accessible, and they're often very beautiful. Pre-Raphaelite works on paper and Victorian landscape paintings, in particular, have been overlooked for a long time and are overdue a revival."

As well as bringing new people into the world of auctions, there is the thrill of uncovering the stories behind the artworks. "I'm very excited by a wonderful and very rare topographical painting The Castillo de San Juan de Ulúa, Veracruz, Mexico by the British landscape painter Daniel Egerton coming up in the Travel and Exploration Sale in Knightsbridge next February. It's estimated at £200,000-300,000, so it's a major work, but it also has a great back story. Egerton was a first-rate painter, but he was also a first-class rogue. He spent much of the latter part of his life in Mexico – he'd eloped with his teenage lover, then eight months pregnant, after abandoning his family back in England. They were mysteriously murdered in 1842 over – it's rumoured – a dodgy business deal that went wrong." Pictures plus artists equals never a dull moment.

Lucinda Bredin is Editor of Bonhams Magazine.

Sale: Old Master Paintings
Wednesday 25 October
Enquiries: Veronique Scorer +44 (0) 20 7393 3962

  1. Veronique Scorer
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
    Work +44 20 7393 3962
    FaxFax: +44 20 7393 3863

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