United Kingdom

Diary of an art dealer

Richard Day remembers 40 years of business in “Artful Tales”

A “smootherboy” (the self-congratulatory gang name adopted by public school- and Oxbridge-educated male staff at Sotheby’s), Richard Day entered the art world by putting together a small prints exhibition on Cork Street with the remaining £50 of his army earnings. As an evidently sociable and charming young man, he was soon welcomed onto the Sotheby’s team, where he became director of the Print and Old Master Drawings department and was made partner by the age of 30.

He left Sotheby’s in 1971 to enter into partnership as a dealer with his close friend and brother-in-law, John Baskett. Together they held their exhibitions in Baskett’s Bond Street gallery space. Well-connected as they were, they quickly found collectors to work for, many of whom, such as Paul Mellon, Frits Lugt and Jean Bonna, became close friends.

Artful Tales is the engaging anecdotal account of Day’s career, relating amusing incidents with great wit and perception of character. Day’s account doesn’t touch on the difficulties inevitable in any such business over the course of 40 years, but rather presents a self-assured success story with insights into the art world as it has developed over the last half century. While he writes frankly of the competitive and occasionally immoral nature of the art market, he persuades the reader that its essence is the “quest to possess and to appreciate something of ultimate beauty or personal value”. His outlook on art and life is engaging, and his optimistic anticipation of new artistic discoveries and developments is a happy contrast to what can sometimes seem a cynical and grubby business.

Richard Day, Artful Tales: the Unlikely and Implausible Journal of an Art Dealer (Day and Faber), 448 pp, £30 by subscription from 14 Old Bond Street, London, W15 4PP

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