The way we regard our possessions has completely changed.
Until around 1960 the paintings, china and furniture around us were cherished for their beauty, their usefulness or their emotional associations.
But a new dimension has been added: each work of art, however sentimentally important, now has a price-tag attached to it. And, more often than not, the value will be related to what the object would fetch at one of Sotheby’s salerooms.
This is not surprising. For the revolution is symbolised by one man, the late Peter Wilson, and by Sotheby’s, the auction house of which he was chairman for twenty eventful years.
He took the world’s art market by storm and in doing so, enlarged our ideas of what constituted ‘tradeable beauty’ and enabled us to attach precise financial values to the contents of even quite humble homes.
For Peter Wilson was that rarest of phenomena – a man who not only transformed a business, but also changed the way we look at the world.
He lured a receptive public on both sides of the Atlantic into the belief that art, and only art, could provide investors with a refuge from the economic problems of the 1960s and the 1970s.
Sold interweaves the story of Peter Wilson with the history of Sotheby’s and of the art market as a whole, exploring the changes in the reasons why we buy works of art at all.
Blending a mixture of historical research with the memories of those who worked with him, Nicholas Faith explores the ramifications of Sotheby’s progress: its historic battle with Christie’s; its take-over of Parke-Bernet in New York; and the way its saleroom in Belgravia helped revolutionise our attitude to the products of the Victorian age.
Only now can the full story of Peter Wilson, and the revolution he initiated, be told.
Nicholas Faith is a well-known financial and economic journalist and author. A Londoner, educated at Harrow School and Oxford, he was for some years Investment Editor of The Economist, and subsequently Industrial Editor of The Sunday Times. He is the author of twenty-three books.