When Clive Stewart-Lockhart was in his 20s, he collected Clarice Cliff. Not a lot of people know that, but when ATG meets with him in Salisbury in early March, the auctioneer is gazing lovingly at the catalogue for a forthcoming Woolley & Wallis Clarice Cliff and Art Deco sale.
“I have an Orange Trees and House-pattern tea set, bought for £18 in 1974, coming up in this sale,” he says, excitedly, followed by a frown. “I’m worried about the cohort of 40-year-olds and under. I was collecting in my mid-20s, but now young people want to spend their money on experiences instead of buying stuff, with minimalist houses because they move more often.”
Pointing to the Woolleys catalogue, he adds: “That’s the real challenge for our industry – who’s going to absorb all these objects?”
The question hangs unanswered, as the issue with younger buyers is unlikely to hinder Stewart-Lockhart in his next and possibly final career chapter.
We’re talking just ahead of his departure from Woolleys after eight years, latterly as deputy chairman, to become an art adviser. At the Salisbury salerooms and prior to that at Dreweatt Neate, it has been decades on the rostrum.
“The world of work is very interesting right now, with more and more people self-employed,” he says chirpily. Reminded that Britain’s gig economy is pretty crowded, accounting for nearly five million workers, he jokes that he’s “more than happy to be a statistic”.
Leaving the ranks of PAYE workers will no doubt come as a shock after 47 years, though. Stewart-Lockhart responds that he’ll still be doing “much the same as I have been doing for the past 20 years, which is dealing with clients who want to sort their lives out in one way or another. I’ll just be doing it on my own account.”
At 65, Stewart-Lockhart is at the upper end of the age range of those pursuing a solo enterprise. Such longevity has its upsides too, of course.
His little black book also includes former colleagues from his days as an expert on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow (from 1994-2017).
Fellow specialists John Benjamin and Paul Viney, former chairman of Woolleys until his retirement last year, are among his close friends.
Though Asian art and pictures have been his metier, Stewart-Lockhart classes himself as a generalist and if he doesn’t know the answer to a client question, “I know someone who does”.
Will he be running obscure Victorian paintings by his other one-time Roadshow colleague, Rupert Maas? “Of course I’d want to put things in front of Rupert!” he says. “Who wouldn’t want to pick up the phone to Rupert?”
Though no longer appearing on the Beeb, his profile remains strong, helped by continued involvement in lecturing at Sotheby’s Institute and the Arts Society (now delivered online during the Covid-19 lockdown).
The admin around setting up a business has preoccupied Stewart-Lockhart – though he had already grasped the minutiae of GDPR and the more recent anit-money laundering regulations while at Woolleys.
A new website, artadvice.co.uk, has launched and professional indemnity insurance has been purchased “in case I give bad advice”.
Not that this is the intention. The gap Stewart-Lockhart wants to fill arises from what he says is “the difficulty in getting impartial help”.
“If I go into a valuation as a Dreweatts man or a Woolleys man, I’m selling those companies. Whereas if I go to a valuation without that label, I can say where it should be sent for the best price.”
Now free from the requirements to think of auctions as the sole route to market, Stewart-Lockhart looks forward to “the occasions where I can do private sales for a client rather than putting them through the rooms. Some things do better at auction at certain levels. Equally, there are objects you can get a much better price for if you have a specific client in mind… who just has to have it.
“Now I can actually say to clients, that dealer or the art department in that particular auction house might do you a better job.”
He relishes the growth of strong regional salerooms in recent years and is reluctant to stake his claim to helping in that rise. The record speaks for itself, however. At Dreweatt Neate Fine Art, for instance, a division that grew out of an estate agent and farming auction business, Stewart-Lockhart set up dedicated picture and ceramics sales, with some notable successes.
It was a private client, the National Library of Australia, which was at the centre of Stewart-Lockhart’s most fondly remembered sale – a career high while at Dreweatt Neate.
“The library couldn’t afford to have the collection go to another country, so we brokered a private deal with the owner,” he recalls.
He may now dabble in dealing himself, “but I’m not going to buy off Mrs Smith to sell to another dealer,” he says. As he talks about the vital personal network an adviser needs to maintain, we ask whose personal brand he most admires in the dealer world. Without a pause, Stewart-Lockhart replies “Robert Young, by a mile,” he says.
The pair were at Marlborough College together, followed by art education at Sotheby’s Institute. Stewart-Lockhart admires his friend’s entrepreneurial spirit: starting as a furniture dealer, evolving in the early 1980s into the unfashionable area of folk art, while purchasing a shop in Battersea, again ahead of the fashion curve.
“Robert has built an incredibly strong brand, helped by an engaging, non-pushy style and brilliant social media,” he says, adding that folk art is “so compatible with Instagram”.
Stewart-Lockhart emerges from Woolleys after two of the quieter years of his career. A persistent blood cancer condition requires regular rest breaks, to which a rolled-up bed in his office attests. “The illness is not terminal, it just requires managing and being self-employed will help,” he says, matter-of-factly.
As the interview ends, Stewart-Lockhart talks about what has and hasn’t changed in the auctioneering business across his career. He was an early adopter of live bidding – “I did the first live sale on thesaleroom.com back in 2006,” he says proudly – and believes that timed auctions as a format will go mainstream.
What hasn’t changed, he notes, is the profile of people best suited to the art and antiques market: “Not necessarily the straight-A students, though the big auction rooms still seem to think so.”
In his recruitment of talent over the years, devotion to art and antiques remains paramount.
On a noticeboard above his desk is a photo of one of his three sons dressed in his military uniform. When interviewing a young candidate for a position at Woolleys some years ago, Stewart-Lockhart noticed the man kept looking at the photograph.
“After a while I asked him, what is it you really want to do, and he replied, I want to join the Royal Marines. I told him if that was his passion, he should follow it, as I’ve followed mine.”
Managing director to deputy chairman, W&W
Cataloguer, rising to managing director and deputy chairman, Dreweatt Watson & Barton, Dreweatt Neate
Ceramics and general valuations, Sotheby’s
Assistant, Bluett & Sons
Student and administrator, Sotheby’s