Meet our Alumni

Paul Urtasun

Junior Specialist, Decorative Arts, Christie's

Q. What are you responsible for?

I am responsible for preparing Decorative Arts auctions at Christie’s, the world’s leading art business. My role mainly consists of cataloguing, researching and pricing artworks ahead of each sale. This always involves spending a lot of time handling artworks, which can range from a French 18th Century commode once in the apartments of Queen Marie-Antoinette at Versailles, to Audrey Hepburn’s hand-annotated Breakfast at Tiffany’s script. By inspecting these objects close up, I determine whether they are genuine pieces of art and not forgeries, adaptations or later reinterpretations of older objects, establishing their age, maker, and country of origin. This helps me and my team decide if the artwork is eligible for sale, and together we then come up with a fair estimate for which we think the item should sell. Then I research each lot to be published in the auction catalogue and write an academic essay on its history and ownership. Finally, ahead of the auction, we prepare a public display of all objects in our galleries. This involves curating rooms and creating a dialogue between the artworks, which is always great fun. During the preview days, I am in touch with our clients, providing them with all the information they need. 

Q. How did you get your job?

I got my job by applying to the Christie’s Graduate Training Programme. I was already familiar with the company because I did my Master’s degree in Fine and Decorative Art at Christie’s Education. During my studies we attended many auction previews and met a lot of Christie’s specialists. The tutors from the careers department then encouraged me to apply for the Graduate Training Programme, which allowed me to grow a network from different departments. After a few months, my dream position opened in the Decorative Arts department and I was lucky enough to get the job.

Q. What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is the incredible objects I can experience hands-on. I am privileged to inspect and take apart pieces which you would normally find behind glass screens in museums. Variety is the other great aspect of my job. Every day is different, for example, I could be at a client’s house on a valuation one day, and the other in the library researching an obscure object. 

Q. What are people's initial impressions when they hear about your job?

Many people think that my job is glamorous and exclusive and that we offer only million-pound works of art reported by the media, but we sell all kinds of objects at all price ranges, so it’s accessible for everyone. Our galleries are free and open to all, and anyone who has a passion for art can work at Christie’s.

Q. What is your most memorable working moment so far?

My most memorable moment is probably the auction of the Collection of Audrey Hepburn. It was the first time I was working on the gallery display, dressing up mannequins and laying out the Hollywood-icon’s jewellery in glass vitrines. During the sale, I was on the telephone with a client bidding. The room was brimming with people, everyone was excited, and the interest was such that the sale lasted nine hours. 

Q. Why did you study History and then undertake a History of Art masters? 

I’ve always been interested in the history of an object. Artworks, be they a piece of furniture, silver, or porcelain, a painting or a sculpture, are a window into the past. They express something unique about a particular moment in time, about an individual, a society or an epoch. I realised this as I studied my history degree at university, but lacked the skills to decipher the meaning of artworks, which is why I decided to embark on a master’s degree at Christie’s Education. There I was taught to ‘look at’ and ‘read’ art every day, during the interaction with various people and from different angles. 

Q. Why did you want to work in an auction house?

Ever since I was a child, I was attracted to beautiful objects with interesting stories. I remember going to antique shops and markets near my family home in France and would always want to return home with something I had found. As I grew older, I began attending sales at my local auction house with my mum and remember the excitement of rummaging through warehouses with all kinds of objects, and the incredible energy on the day of the auction, something I still experience at Christie’s.