Renowned auctioneer de Pury presents a memoir full of gossip, anecdotes, and tales of the very, very rich.
The author always had a physical, rather than intellectual, approach to art. Pure joy was just seeing and being around great art. De Pury, who is assisted by co-author Stadiem (Jet Set: The People, The Planes, The Glamour and the Romance in Aviation’s Glory Years, 2014, etc.), makes no secret of the fact that he has always been an ambitious snob and elitist, required assets for an auctioneer to those with large, expensive collections to sell. His first job was with art dealer and “total genius” Ernst Beyeler, a hometown friend of his mother in Basel, Switzerland. In 1971, Beyeler created Art Basel, and he laid out a five-year plan for the boy who still thought he wanted to be an artist. He showed him that buying and selling can be just as rewarding. The author moved on to Sotheby’s and met Peter Cecil Wilson, “the seemingly mythical chairman” and auctioneer extraordinaire. In Wilson, de Pury discovered the techniques to copy in hopes of being as great as his role model. Occasionally, the book is a true ego trip, with the author recalling his record-breaking sales as “the gallery swooned” or “the crowd breathed a collective ‘wow.’ ” De Pury engages in unabashed name-dropping and delivers plenty of juicy tidbits about some of the world’s 1 percent. However, this is also the story of a man wholly dedicated to his profession, a jet-setter before the jet age. He served as curator for one of the world’s greatest art collectors, Baron Heini Thyssen, and was also the owner of the acclaimed auction house Phillips.
At times, the narrative reads like a gossip rag for the fabulously wealthy, but it’s an enjoyable book that lets us live vicariously in the haut monde.