Hannah O’Leary of Sotheby’s
Hannah O’Leary who has been appointed Head of Modern and Contemporary African Art at Sotheby’s.

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Sotheby’s have appointed Hannah O’Leary as head of Modern and Contemporary African Art. She was previously at Bonhams where, as head of department, she helped grow their auctions of South African Art as well as Modern and Contemporary African Art. She will now be going up against her old boss at Bonhams, Giles Peppiatt, the company’s director of African Art.

O’Leary said: “Sotheby’s auctions, starting next year, will provide an unprecedented platform for Modern and Contemporary African Art. There’s enormous untapped potential in this market, and together we are perfectly poised to explore it to the full.”

Slice of the Pie

Bonhams latest sale in this category in London on May 25 generated a total of £2m including premium with 10 artist’s records set. It seems likely Sotheby’s had an eye on gaining a slice of the pie well before these results.

Managing director of Sotheby’s Europe Maarten Ten Holder said: “The African art scene is thriving, and as our sales develop in 2017, we anticipate that we will establish a significant profile in this field, while also looking to enhance our presence on the African continent.”

O’Leary’s appointment also comes after a series of specialists departed Sotheby’s earlier in the year. When they announced their voluntary redundancy scheme in November, Sotheby’s said that some of the savings made would be "reinvested in new staff to support collecting categories and activities with the highest growth opportunities". The appointment of O’Leary was clearly part of this process.

She returns to Sotheby’s having first joined the company in 2005, initially working in the Dublin and Melbourne offices. She then moved to Bonhams in London in 2006. As well as her auctioneer she has also been an international consultant to the South African National Gallery and contributing author to the Irma Stern retrospective catalogue ‘Brushing Up on Stern’.

Ten Holder said: “Hannah brings with her a wealth of experience in this vibrant and fascinating area of the market. Her career to date has been characterised by bold endeavour and outstanding achievement, and we are delighted that she will now lead our new initiative.”