Mayfair gallery Agnew’s, the 195-year-old family business best known for Old Masters, will close on April 30 after exhibiting for the last time at ‘The European Fine Art Fair’ in Maastricht next month.
Julian Agnew, the sixth generation
chairman of the firm, told ATG: "We are neither the Tesco's of the
market like the big auction houses nor a small dealer with only an
assistant and a dog who can run on very low overheads. We're in the
middle market, which is very difficult.
"Changes in the market and technology
make a gallery no longer necessary unless perhaps you are a big
Contemporary art business."
Once a major force in the Old Master
market, the gallery's fortunes have faltered in recent years in a
changed marketplace. In 2008, Agnew's Bond Street premises,
purpose-built by Julian Agnew's great great grandfather Sir William
Agnew in 1877, were sold for a reported £25m and the gallery
announced its intention to downsize its Old Master department to
concentrate more on Modern and Contemporary art at the new
Albemarle Street space.
The "entirely voluntary" decision to
close the gallery was taken by the 16 family shareholders, only two
of whom, Julian Agnew and Christopher Kingzett, still work at the
firm. The business is not in debt and, as there are still 12 years
left on the lease for the Albemarle Street gallery, they are
looking to assign the lease.
"It's the correct decision, although
tinged with sadness," said Mr Agnew. "But better to recognise that
the marketplace has changed than drag on in a miasma of gloom. I'm
70 and I want to have a quieter life. I will continue to look after
20-25 of my best clients, both buying and selling, until they or I
stop or die! But these habits die hard and I love looking at works
of art so I will continue to keep a close eye on the
Talks to sell the company fell through
last year and the firm has since been running down both stock and
staff gradually, leaving only six employees now, including Mr
Kingzett and Mr Agnew.
Mr Kingzett has not yet decided what
to do next, but Mr Agnew said he plans to continue
"It used to be that the auction houses
were the wholesalers and we dealers were the retailers. But now
they offer everything we can offer including privacy thanks to
their private treaty departments," said Mr Agnew.
"I think all dealers are
undercapitalised for today's market of multi-million-pound lots,"
he added. "If you don't think a model of business is working any
more, the best thing to do is acknowledge it. We can now give the
shareholders money to go on and spend on new businesses, or do as
George Best did and spend it on wine and women!"
The increasingly short supply of good
quality stock within the Old Masters market has also contributed to
the decision to call it a day: "I don't want to deal in secondary
Old Masters," said Mr Agnew, speculating that some of his Old
Master dealing contemporaries may soon follow him into retirement
and that few younger dealers are entering the field.
His daughter, Gina left the gallery
last year and started her own Contemporary art business, so the
seventh generation is keeping the family name going in the
industry, albeit in a different guise.
Although stock has been run down,
Agnew's have secured some good items on consignment for their final