Dealer Max Rutherston.

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1 How did you get your start?

After eight years of European pictures at Sotheby’s and a stint in someone else’s gallery I dared to go solo, dealing in Modern British pictures.

Sadly, that business went belly up in the financial crisis of the early 1990s, and it took another 10 years learning about Japanese art at Sotheby’s and another eight at Sydney L Moss before I dared to try again.

2 What objects are in vogue?

While theoretically I offer anything Japanese, 90% of what I sell is netsuke carvings, for which I have built a reputation. We sell in a broad price range (£200 to £100,000) and volume is important. Luckily, netsuke seem to have an enduring fascination, not least thanks to Edmund de Waal’s Hare with Amber Eyes. Curiously I have very few Japanese collectors, but I have buyers in far-flung corners of the world.

3 How far will you travel to buy an object?

While at Sydney Moss I went to Buenos Aires for one lot in a sale, which fortunately we bought. I don’t have quite the same energy these days and prefer to bid from my armchair. I love buying at auction in Paris, where bargains are still to be had, and I find great things in French collections.

4 What do you collect personally?

Like for a drug dealer, the first rule is not to get the habit. That said, I have relented recently, buying a carving by an artist on whom I lectured. While that piece cost me about £2800, I have since played a game with myself of seeing how cheaply I can find other things by him. Thus far I have added three for less than £400 each. A more recent purchase still seemed cheap at £1700.

5 What is one great discovery you’ve made?


Okimono netsuke of a shishi lion sold by Max Rutherston.

Early this year I was able to buy at auction an ivory okimono netsuke of a shishi lion. It carried the ubiquitous signature of the much copied late-18th century carver Tomotada, but it is not by him. Actually, I cannot with certainty give you a name for who carved it, though I know the hand. The point is that no one else following the sale in Germany seemed to understand how exceptional it was. I sold it for over 10 times what it cost me.

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