Christie's 19th Century Paintings Are Entrusted to Him

Generally we expect an expert of art history to be someone in his 60s with gray hair, a slight hunchback, and a habit of talking over his bifocals. And if this person is a director at the 19th Century Art Department of an auction company like Christie’s, it would be reasonable to expect to meet a person with even more gray hair and more age.
Contrary to these expectations, the 19th Century European Paintings Department of Christie’s New York is entrusted to 33-year-old Ali Can Ertug. Despite his young age, Ertug has 10 years of experience at the two biggest auction companies of the world, from 1996 to 1999 at Sotheby’s, and for the last seven years at Christie’s.

Ertug, in front of the $300,000-$500,000 painting by French artist William Adolphe Bouguereau, dated 1898.

Ertug is the Vice President of the 19th Century European Paintings Department and works under Christie’s Administrative Board. In his team there are seven people working in New York and six in London. He is also the leader of Christie’s Turkey operations and works in co-operation with the company’s Istanbul representative, Zeynep Kayhan.

Currently, Ertug is gathering works of art from all over the world for four different auctions that are going to take place in New York in April and October and in London in June and November. Annually he works with a sales target of $60 million. Ertug is the only Turk in such a high post at Christie’s and says rich people not only value young financers to manage their money but also prefer young people to direct their tastes in art. Ertug, who was only 30 years old when he was appointed to his current post in 2003, underlines that being young is not an obstacle to being promoted at Christie’s.

Ertug is a graduate of Istanbul’s Alman Lisesi and came to the USA in 1992 to study art history at Vassar College in New York. He began his career in Sotheby's 19th Century Paintings Department.

“I was wondering where to work after graduation. I would have worked at a museum or an art gallery but they didn’t seem attractive to me. I love the environment of the places where the auctions are held. Even if one has a master’s degree, in a museum, he can only work as an assistant. I preferred auction companies to do a job that I like.”
Ertug began his career by gaining expertise on paintings with Ottoman themes. Then in Sotheby’s for three years, from 1996 to 1998, under the title of “Turkish Sales” he sold paintings of artists that lived during the time of the Ottoman Empire. After the success achieved in these auctions, his scope was enlarged to include orientalist paintings from Morocco to India.

The young art historian points out that a distinction is drawn in contemporary painting between the period up to the 1990s and the period from 1995 to 2006. He says there is a global interest in paintings which combine the art of painting with other visual effects. “I’d like to sell the works of contemporary artists like Haluk Akakce and Taner Ceylan abroad,” says Ertug. “We have to consider a balance between the expense involved in putting such pieces into an auction and the figures that we might receive after the sales. Insurance, transportation… these are important expenses. We have to take care that the works which are worth the expenses are put on sale at auction,” he adds.

Ertug has also put the works of his uncle, photographic artist Ahmet Ertug, in auction and managed to sell four of them. Another photograph by Ahmet Ertug has been framed as one of the biggest photographs of the world and is waiting for the next sale.

Ertug says they do not sell many Turkish paintings in the 19th Century European Paintings Department and the Turkish painting that was sold abroad for the highest price belongs to Osman Hamdi Bey, at $422,000.

Ertug, with the painting of French artist Leon Augustin Lhermitte (1844- 1925).

Ertug puts 600-800 pieces on sale every year and the most expensive piece he sold last years went for $4.5 million. Ertug is also the leader of Christie’s Turkey operation, which has been active since 2004. Christie’s has a potential clientele of more than 2000 buyers in Istanbul and so far Turkish sales have climbed to $6.5 million from a total of $2 million last year. The sales target for the end of the year is about $8-10 million.

In 2005 Christie’s realized revenues of $3.2 billion from all over the world. Its 39% increase this year has allowed it to reach $2.3 billion in sales in the first half of 2006.

Ertug, who is an expert at finding invaluable art pieces that match the taste of his clients, wishes that one day someone in Turkey would start to collect such pieces too. He also believes that his 10 years of experience and performance in the world of art has reached a level that would allow him to help those in Turkey who might be considering such an initiative. “I’d like to consult with some people who have plans to open a museum in Turkey,” he says.  

Ertug points out that among his clients there are just as many who buy art for pleasure  as those who see buying art as an investment. “Beyond deciding whether a certain piece of art is authentic or not, we are also able to decide whether it is a tasteful and qualified choice or not. We do not put on sale just any work from any artist,” he says.

Ali Can Ertug spends almost 200 days of the year out of New York and says that in order to see the difference between good and better he tries to improve himself continuously. “It is a pleasure for me to visit art galleries in my free time and go to the local museums of the cities or villages that I travel to. I don’t have a 9 to 5 mindset for my job” he adds.

•    Europe & Middle East         $1.08 billion
•    King Street                            $715 million
•    South Kensington               $70 million
•    France                                   $153 million
•    United States                       $888 million
•    Rockefeller Center              $880 million
•    Asia and Australia               $159 million

Top International Department Totals for January – June 2006
•    Impressionist & Modern Art            $611 million
•    Post-War & Contemporary Art        $394 million
•     Jewelry, Jadeite, Watches             $160 million
•    Asian Art                                             $192 million
•    European Furniture                          $117 million
•    Old Masters                                       $107 million
•    British & Irish Art                               $140 million
•    American Paintings                         $83 million
•    Books & Manuscripts                      $46 million
•    Silver                                                   $19 million
•    20th Century Decorative Arts          $87 million
•    Prints                                                  $29 million
•    Russian Works of Art                       $18 million

(August 2006, 22nd Issue)
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07