One makes it, and the other sells it: love of art is a unifying factor. What does one eye see that the other doesn’t?
Marlous Mostrous-Jens is Director of Business Development and an auctioneer at the renowned auction house Sotheby’s in Amsterdam.
Eclectic – that’s how you could describe Marlous Mostrous-Jens’ home interior. There isn’t just one style of art or art from one period. That’s hardly possible when you are surrounded by so much beauty on a daily basis. As Director of Business Development and auctioneer at Sotheby’s, Marlous and her team are responsible for new client contact and organising auctions. A lot of careful consideration goes into that: Sotheby’s looks for a nice mix within a certain style or theme, also exploring the market. Different pieces are popular in Paris than in New York.
As a child, Marlous loved beautiful things and strolling around fleas market. However, after finishing high school, she did not go for the obvious choice of studying history of art. She instead chose an course in economics at the New Business School in Amsterdam – and she was a brilliant success. She later studied for a Master’s degree in Art Business in London, deciding to go into the arts after all. That combination ultimately resulted in a job at Sotheby’s. It was the dream job, because ‘the magic of an auction house attracted [her] enormously’.
Marlous also aspired to a place on the rostrum – which is not an easy job. ‘I had to go through an X Factor-like selection procedure, which was very nerve-racking.’ She managed to get the position, making her the youngest auctioneer ever. Hammering out items on that rostrum is theatrical, but there are a thousand things you have to pay attention to. ‘I have to get a feel for the audience; you interact differently with a younger audience than with an older audience of dyed-in-the-wool art connoisseurs. I have to radiate authority, keep order in the room and create a pleasant atmosphere, with a bit of humour. It’s like acting. I pay attention to bids from the audience – some holding their paddles high, others just giving a subtle nod of the head – bids in the book that have been placed in advance, bids from representatives on the sidelines bidding on behalf of art buyers and online bids. I know the bidding steps by heart. It’s a game that involves making people happy. That’s the most wonderful thing ever.’
Can Marlous estimate how much something will be sold for? ‘Roughly. You know which artists are popular, how much other works have been sold for and whether the work is from a popular period. The level of the work also contributes towards the price: has it been rushed or is it refined? You can tell by the technique, whether the paint is thickly coated or has been applied very precisely.’ It’s a matter of close examination: ‘You learn a lot by observing. Recently we had a Van Gogh that had never been shown to the public. We examined it together with experts, some of whom were from the Van Gogh Museum. I learn a lot from those sessions.’
Back home, what is Marlous’ favourite work of art in her own collection? ‘Once, when I was in New York, I bought a drawing on the street for $10. That is still one of my favourite pieces. Art doesn’t need to have a value to mean something.’
Charlotte Caspers is an artist and conservator. She has previously worked on the programme, Het geheim van de meester [‘The Secret of the Master’], by Avrotros.
If you want to become an artist, you have to go to art school. Sure, that’s one way, but Charlotte Caspers chose a different route: ‘Art school sharpens your conceptual mentality and focuses on the story behind your work. I wanted to learn the craft of painting, really focussing on the making. I felt that I first needed to learn the language of painting, how to stretch a canvas and make paint, before I could express myself in that language.’
So after studying history of art, Charlotte took a postgraduate course in art restoration. She learned everything about making paint, the chemical formulas you use to create a certain paint, colour and structure, the varnish you need to achieve the desired effect and which solvent cleans just enough without ruining the entire painting. After all, it would be a shame to ruin a classic Hondecoeter or Vermeer.
It’s that love of technique, precision, that forms the basis of her work as an artist now. ‘The techniques I use go way back. I really like the iconic paintings from the Middle Ages and the gold that you see in them; the way the gold reflects or absorbs the light due to the way in which it has been processed. I do the same in my work, by polishing the gold, engraving it and making holes into it. That’s how I play around with light.’
Although Charlotte uses ancient painting and priming techniques – on wood, with chalk formed from fossil plankton – her work has a modern twist: landscape portraits that evoke stillness with a few delicate lines and start a conversation within the observer. At least, for those who want to hear it: ‘You have to take the time for art. If you want to be moved by a work, you have to make an effort to look and discover things. There isn’t always a click, but that’s not important – after all, you don’t like everyone you meet.
The abstractness in her own work contrasts with the reconstructions she created for the programme Het geheim van de meester [‘The Secret of the Master’] – a counter-reaction to imitating Old Masters. For the programme, Charlotte and her team produced numerous reconstructions of old paintings by studying and analysing layers of paint, examining the texture, underlay and material. They approached a work with respect for its creator, read between his lines, as it were, and tried to capture the essence of his brushstroke. ‘A Master’s secret is always the inspiration that they put into a painting. It takes a great deal of knowledge to really capture it. It is the sum of factors that determine how a painter communicates, and that is something that you try to analyse and interpret with the team.
And whether the works are old or new, one thing is clear: ‘An artist shares their view of the world with you. Art makes you look thrxough someone else’s eyes, and that has a very unifying effect.’
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