You have 2 more free articles remaining

Meet the new breed of Asian art dealer: under 45, tech- and marketing-savvy, just as likely to be female as male, hands-on in running their galleries and hungry for scholarship in their chosen fields.

If they have one issue in common, it is balancing the 24/7 needs of running a business with gaining the necessary connoisseurship to be taken seriously in a market that values erudition over artifice.

Rebecca Davies, chief executive of dealer trade body LAPADA, believes the emergence of a younger generation of dealers in this sphere of art comes at a critical juncture.

She says the next generation is establishing itself “at a time when the profession is becoming ever more challenging in areas such as compliance. The field of Asian art, where specialists are dealing in cultural property from countries such as China, India and Korea, brings with it particular responsibilities in terms of provenance, for instance.”

Younger dealers must “widen their skill-sets to meet their obligations”, Davies counsels. This sense of responsibility – that the UK’s hard-won reputation in trading Asian art must be nurtured and protected – is evident in our interviews with younger dealers in these pages.

Here they reveal the journey they’ve made so far, their influences (artistic and business-wise) and how they plan to widen the appeal of Asian art beyond its traditional heartland.

“With such a geographically diverse client base you’re on call 24/7”

Mark Slaats - age 33

Gallery: Littleton & Hennessy Asian Art (London SW1)

Job title: Art consultant for Littleton & Hennessy


Mark Slaats of Littleton & Hennessy Asian Art.

How I got here: Ten years ago, I met the founders of Littleton & Hennessy, James Hennessy and Richard Littleton, when I was studying for a master’s degree in international business at Maastricht University. It was through this connection that I was drawn into the art world and, more specifically, into Chinese art.

What I do: At L&H, we work across many fields of art, including modern and contemporary, with a particular expertise in Chinese antiquities. As an art consultant, I advise clients on their existing collections and how they can expand them.

We recognise collectors nowadays have much broader tastes. Our new and young clients are not only interested in buying Chinese antiques, they have a deep interest in other fields too. They’ll buy a Ming vase and put it next to one of our Japanese contemporary works of art, or a Monet or Picasso.

My biggest work challenge is… trying to keep up with the art world. There are so many conflicting art fairs and auctions – you have to pick the right ones to attend. It often feels like you have to be in three places at once.

With such a geographically diverse client base, and the ease with which we can communicate with clients today, it means you’re on call 24/7. There is no such thing as down time and you need to be flexible. It’s challenging but I love my job, so that’s not a problem.

The greatest thing about selling Asian art is… It sounds like a cliché, but it’s getting to hold and work with some amazing Chinese pieces that span centuries and dynasties. You also become a small part of the extraordinary journey these pieces take by giving them a new chapter in their history.

My career ambition is…L&H want to continue handling top pieces and working with the best collectors and institutions in the world. I’d also like to work outside Asian antiques, in modern and contemporary art from Asia and the West. Along the way, I plan to improve my Mandarin. I’m past the Google Translate stage but I aim to become fluent.

Susan Groot - age 40

Gallery: John Berwald (London W1)

Job title: Company director


Susan Groot, company director of John Berwald.

How I got here: I was working in the Chinese department at Christie’s Amsterdam and moved to the Keramiekmuseum (Ceramics Museum) Princessehof in the Netherlands as an assistant curator in historic porcelain.

I met John in 2007 and came to London to work with him.

What I do: I spend a lot of time watching auctions all over the world, searching for pieces. I go to the big auctions to help check condition and give my opinion.

My biggest work challenge is… that the Chinese art world has changed quite a bit. Even 10 years ago there were hardly any Asian buyers in the saleroom. Now there are few Western buyers and it’s been an adjustment.

We used to met Western clients through fairs but Asian buyers focus on auctions or come into the gallery in groups. They tend not to form relationships but come to see if you have something of interest.

So that closeness we once had with clients is rarer than it used to be.

Also I believe the internet means it’s harder to find the good pieces. However, there are still areas we focus on that are not popular with the Chinese buyers (yet!).

Affordable pieces can include sculpture (as long as they don’t have too good a provenance) and lacquer, as it is a delicate material and needs good preservation.

Ceramics from the Ming dynasty are also more affordable and I’m particularly passionate about these.

The greatest thing about selling Asian art is… It’s a pleasure to talk to people in this market. The depth of some dealers’ knowledge is quite incredible and a lot of the trade is concentrated here in London.

My career ambition is…to keep doing what I’m doing, but reaching an ever-wider audience.

Jon Irvine – age 35

Gallery: Jon Irvine Antiques (Bournemouth)

Job title: Proprietor


Jon Irvine, owner of Jon Irvine Antiques.

How I got here: Antiques are in my blood. I come from a long line of antiques dealers. My great-grandparents were the first to get into antiques, selling across the board.

I dabbled in dealing through my late teens and early 20s before I went full time seven years ago. I guess I was drawn to Asian art as it tweaked my innate curiosity in all these mysterious items I found trawling the fairs as a boy.

What I do: A lot of my business is now online – I get access to a much wider audience. It means a lot of my days are spent photographing pieces to put on the internet.

I source around 90% of my stock in the UK, buying from antiques fairs, private sources and auctions. But my clients are all over the place – in Europe, Russia, the US, and of course Japan and China.

My biggest work challenge is… bankroll management. Buying right and keeping a balance between funds tied up in stock, and cash. In order to tackle that, I trade a lot and work on the basis of trying to buy and handle lots of objects, learning as much as I can in the process.

Fakes are an integral part of being an antiques dealer. The reason many people prefer buying from an antiques dealer, rather than at auction, is that they know the dealer has the knowledge and experience to know the difference – it’s their livelihood on the line.

The greatest thing about selling Asian art is… I lean towards Japanese art. The quality of some of it – especially the Meiji period – is unrivalled.

My career ambition is…to keep doing what I’m doing, as opposed to ‘going to work for a living’!

Eddy Toshi Ishikawa Wertheim – age 32

Gallery: Japanese Gallery (London W8)

Job title: Managing director


Eddy Toshi Ishikawa Wertheim, managing director of Japanese Gallery.

How I got here: Being half Japanese, I was introduced to Japanese art at an early age by my parents, who had a particular interest in woodblock prints. A personal passion for fencing later led me to explore Japanese arms and armour.

I gained a better understanding of the trade during an apprenticeship in Japan, spending several years there. I’m currently the only person outside Japan to be credited with a Japanese dealer’s sword licence, obtained through a unanimous vote by the dealer community, called Zentosho.

What I do: I’m involved with both the day-to-day running of the gallery and key decisions concerning the business. I also look after our website, which is vital for showcasing Japanese art to a wider audience.

We also hope it will encourage younger people interested in the field to get involved. We want to help change our market’s ‘inaccessible and unapproachable’ reputation, while continuing to focus on customer service.

My biggest work challenge is…developing and modernising the gallery and website. We’re still learning about technology and how to use social media in an effective way. It is also vital we adapt our business model to accommodate developments on e-commerce platforms. I work closely with my team to navigate these new waters.

The greatest thing about selling Asian art is… The influence of Asian art on other cultures, particularly how it inspired famous artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet, never ceases to amaze me.

Career ambition: To create a website to make learning about art and collecting accessible for anyone wishing to start a collection, and to help collectors identify genuine and fake pieces. Antiques have a place in modern life but risk being left behind if we don’t encourage and educate young people. They are the next generation of collectors.

Virginie Gourin – age 36

Gallery: Gregg Baker (London W8)

Job title: Curator


Virginie Gourin, curator at Gregg Baker.

How I got here: I studied the art market at IESA in Paris and then stayed in the city, working at Sotheby’s.

Books and manuscripts were my first love but eventually I felt the field was too dusty and old. So from there I worked at Drouot, and then at La Galerie Sparts, a contemporary art gallery in Paris.

I met Gregg in Brussels three years ago and went to work for him the next year.

What I do: I’ve always had a deep interest in Modernism and when I arrived in London, Gregg had just started presenting more Japanese art. I started reading everything I could about Japanese painting in the early 20th century up to the 1960s and that’s my focus now too. I pushed him to do an exhibition quite quickly and we held our first show on the subject, Infinite Space: The New Japan, from November 2015 to January 2016.

The idea is to mix modern art with antiques. I have to know about both sides of the business – but my real love is the art.

My biggest work challenge is… Establishing myself as an authority. Writing the introduction to our Infinite Space exhibition last year was a very important way of asserting myself. And I want to write more. It’s the best way to be recognised and people know quickly whether or not you know what you’re talking about.

The greatest thing about selling Asian art is…I like being based in London, which is such a dynamic place. Our gallery is constantly adapting as the market changes.

This job gives me the chance to travel. I went to Japan 10 years ago and fell in love with the country. But Japan is quite a closed world, including the trade, so I missed a lot the first time I went. Now I go back with Gregg who knows so much and I learn more about it in a totally new way. And the more I know about it, the more I realise there is still a lot to discover.

My career ambition is… To become a specialist in Suda Kokuta, the artist we represent at the gallery right now. I also want to write a biography about an artist.

Christine Ramphal – age 37

Gallery: Francesca Galloway (London W1)

Job title: Director


Christine Ramphal, director at Francesca Galloway.

How I got here: After my degree I interned in the costume and textile department at Christie’s South Kensington. After that, in 2007, I was keen to expand my knowledge while maintaining a link with textiles, and Francesca Galloway was looking for a gallery manager. Although I only had one year‘s experience, she was happy to work with me and develop the role. In 2012 I was made a director of the gallery.

What I do: I specialise in textiles and costumes, but my role here has allowed me to acquire expertise in Indian miniatures and Indian and Islamic works of art too. My work is very varied as we always have several different projects going on, including travelling abroad to see clients and exhibiting at New York during Asia Week.

The job is full of the unexpected. For example, a scholar came to us a few years ago and asked us to find paintings which were formerly in the Otto Sohn-Rethel collection and had not been seen since 1931. I took on the challenge and over two years I was able to locate the majority of them. It was a marvellous journey.

My biggest work challenge is…Finding new, exciting art and to find innovative ways of presenting it. We constantly re-think things in the gallery so it stays fresh, interesting and relevant.

Samuel Marchant – age 23 and Natalie Marchant – age 28

Gallery: Marchant (London W8)

Job titles: Natalie: In-house photographer and head of PR and advertising; Samuel: Chinese antique dealer


Samuel and Natalie Marchant of London dealership Marchant.

How I got here: Natalie: At Birmingham City University I got a 1st class BA (Hons) in visual communications, specialising in photography. I joined Marchant after graduation in 2011.

Samuel: I did geography at the University of Bristol and then interned at Christie’s New York in the Asian art department, mainly helping with producing auction catalogues. After graduating, I joined Marchant in September 2015.

As we grew up our father Stuart would always show us pieces and take us to auctions to create interest and excitement for us. We have both been looking at Asian art for as long as we can remember.

What I do: Natalie: I shoot our catalogues, maintain the website and social media platforms as well as advertising and PR tasks. I’ve also been running our Chinese export gallery (at 101 Kensington Church Street) for the past two years and occasionally accompany Richard Marchant (grandfather), Stuart or Samuel on trips.

Samuel: I act primarily on the business side, assisting my father and grandfather in buying and selling.

My biggest work challenge is… Natalie: Aside from the obvious challenges that working with family pose, it is that our workload comes in waves. Sometimes it can be hard to find things to do, yet other times, I’ll be very busy designing adverts, writing press releases and dealing with additional shots of pieces for enquiries – all while working on an upcoming exhibition and catalogue!

Samuel: In this field, knowledge and experience is key, but I’m privileged to be around my father and grandfather who share that with me.

The greatest thing about selling Asian art is… Natalie: We hold provenance in very high regard and it’s something you don’t have with other genres such as modern painting. I’ve always loved the history of pieces.

Samuel: We are able to surround ourselves with beautiful artworks on a daily basis, meet wonderful people and travel the world searching for objects to buy.

My career ambition is… Natalie: To keep Marchant producing beautiful publications showcasing our stock and exhibitions to reach a wider audience. Samuel: To continue the legacy which my great-grandfather, grandfather and father have built since 1925.

“There are the challenges that working with family pose”