Henry Wyndham to leave Sotheby's

February 29 2016

Video: Creative Choices

I learn from Georgina Adam on Twitter that Henry Wyndham is to leave Sotheby's. For auction lovers this is sad news indeed, for he was the best auctioneer in the business. Although any succesful auction is usually thought to be down to whether things like the estimates or attributions were right, the actual performance of the auctioneer on the night is a large, and underrated, aspect of the whole operation. Wyndham's sales were always conducted with the perfect blend of humour (with Sotheby's George Wachter often playing Ernie Wise to Wyndham's Eric Morecambe), deadly earnestness in focussing on bidders (with a sharp 'are you bidding?' directed at anyone wavering), and just the right amount of bluff (auctions are all about bluff, especially when the bidders are thin). Despite his many skills, however, there was never a sense of 'look at me' with Wyndham on the rostrum, as there can be with other auctioneers.

Though I've only met him once or twice, I must have been to dozens of his sales, often just to see how he did it. A key technique was to focus on the pace of a sale. In a Wyndham auction there was rarely a moment's silence, for he would rattle off bids like a racing commentator with Tourette's. Other auctioneers sometimes let the room go too quiet when they're looking for bids, which immediately signals that something's about to 'buy-in' - in which case people sit on their hands. In a Wyndham auction one always had the sense that someone else was about to bid, so you felt you'd better get your hand up quickly.

In the video above, he talks about his career at Sotheby's, and how he got started. I wonder who'll replace him?

Update - and of course the more significant questions are; why is he going, and is he going anywhere else?

Update II - Melanie Girlis in The Art Newspaper reports that Wyndham, who was of course Chairman of Sotheby's Europe, will take a break for 'six months before deciding what to do next'. 

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.