Michael Bing joined Sotheby’s in 1979 and was initially a specialist valuer in British paintings with responsibility for sales held in Scotland.
He made many lifelong friends as head of paintings at Sotheby’s Chester saleroom before returning to London and joining the continental paintings department.
In the 1990s he was appointed head of 19th century continental paintings with responsibility for sales in London, Munich, Amsterdam, Madrid and Milan.
This led to relocation to Switzerland and the task of opening Sotheby’s new Zurich saleroom and promotion to managing director of Sotheby’s Switzerland.
At the same time Michael was responsible for Sotheby’s Russian sales in addition to being head of photographs. In 2001, he returned to the UK and was appointed managing director of Sotheby’s Olympia to turn around the new saleroom which had got off to an uncertain start.
When Sotheby’s decided to concentrate on higher-value sales in 2007 the company was determined to hold onto Michael, who had become something of a talisman for the UK business, being capable of handling any task or department thrown at him.
Since 2007 Michael’s responsibilities expanded to include British and European paintings and grew to encompass the UK regional network of offices as well as house and single-owner sales. Michael’s extraordinary sense of fun made him extremely popular with younger members of Sotheby’s staff and he always took an interest in assisting their careers whenever he could. That he succeeded at Sotheby’s in spite of his questioning of the status quo is testament to his diplomatic skills.
A few of his colleagues will be aware of the depth of his knowledge of non-league football. On business trips around the UK Michael would drive miles out of his way to visit a non-league football ground that he had not been to before.
His coffin was draped in his beloved St Albans City shirt and scarf – a club he once tried to buy!
Such was his love for the Saints that he would buy two season tickets every year even though he knew that he could only bear to attend once or twice a season, usually during a promotion or (more likely) relegation battle.
As well as football, he had great knowledge of cricket and rugby union – in one discussion about the great Welsh sides of the early 1970s, he was asked whether Barry John was still alive. Without blinking, he replied in a flawless Welsh accent: “Oh, Barry John will never die – when the Grim Reaper comes for Barry John, he’ll just side-step him, see.”
Happy day at Lord’s
One personal memory was from a very happy day spent at Lord’s Cricket Ground. One of Michael’s colleagues (Michael Grist) announced that he had been at school with Andrew Strauss, who was on his way to a century as we watched.
Michael seized on this and constructed a wonderful image of Grist toasting teacakes on a toasting fork as part of his fagging duties – entertaining half of the stand at the same time.
When Strauss was finally out towards the end of the day young Grist was dispatched to the pavillion to whiten Strauss’ pads for the second innings!
His favourite films were Zulu and The Godfather series, movies which he could quote verbatim.
Michael collected rugs and Victorian watercolours and his unlikely historical hero was Richard Cromwell, who rather than fight another civil war to succeed his father allowed for the restoration of Charles II.
He fought illness for the last year of his life but still managed to take great delight in his newest acquisition, his disabled parking permit, which he promised to use in the most mischievous of ways to inconvenience the maximum number of shoppers!
Michael will be greatly missed by everyone in the art and antiques trade.