Charles Hindlip, the greatest auctioneer of his generation

During Bath Festival, I finally found something really interesting, that I wanted to buy a ticket for. A talk by Charles Hindlip, the man who sold Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ for a world-record sum. And considering I have always been interested in auctions and how the art market really works, it was a place to be.

The talk was held in beautiful Assembly Rooms and what surprised me the most was the audience. It consisted mainly of elderly people and yes, I was by far the youngest one. It actually really amazed me, considering the topic of the talk and that Bath is full of art students, who should be interested in the insights of the art market.

The whole thing was an hour long conversation between Charles Hindlip and Henry Wyndham, another top auctoneer. They have been friends for 40 years and in light of that, we were all anticipating a humorous hour. And they did not disappoint.

We got the full insights in the art world of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Hindlip began with telling a bit about his background and how he came to be in a position he was on his whole life. He was bad at math and could not pursue his dream of being an architect, but still wanted to be surrounded with beautiful things. So, he started working at Christie’s. First, he was polishing silver in the Silver department, because there were already enough people in Picture department. However, with time, he moved and handled the greatest works of art (based on a personal choice).

Charles pointed out some of his favourite works: Picasso’s pink period (extraordinary charm of touring guys in a circus), unfinished Degas, Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ (with incredible life in the flowers). I have to say I was a bit taken aback with his list, seeing, how he praised British 20th Century art just a few minutes before.

He is also a collector, and in his words: ‘to buy a really good thing is hard, because the art world is draining.’ Charles also touched upon today’s buyers. ‘It used to be about works of art, people were really interested in the things. But now it is just about the money. There is a huge lack of genuine collectors.’ Which is so true, even if we just look back to the latest sale of Basquiat. Is anything from 3 million on really justified?? Today, everything is about pompous art. The amazing/older art goes for much much less, because, unfortunatelly, people could not be bothered. You should appreaciate the quality. In Charles’ words, today’s collectors just have passion, bordering on obsession. They dream, wake up and wait to buy something. Collecting actually became a commodity to sell. But you never know how much something is going to be worth in time, because the ‘flipping game’ is distabilizing the market all the time. So, what is the difference between having a good eye vs. taste? As a true collector, you need to have the ability to sort out really excellent works from just good ones. And then really know what to buy.

Charles and Henry also talked about the main attributes of the auctioneer, a man who makes the sales come true. First of all, you have to remain silent and let the audience decide. Nevertheless, you have to be in charge, as you are making the dealers pay as much and they want to pay as less. However, you are both on the same side. Enthusiasm is key, as much as confidence. And if you are nervous, you will never do well. The great auctioneers always compare their work with the Colosseum and fighting the lions. So, why do they say that watching an auction is like watching paint dry? I have to say, watching an auction was one of the most exciting things I have done in a long time. All the adrenaline pumping. It is definitely not boring. Maybe they are just too used to it?

Also, did you know that Christie’s is about to be sold to Qatar and it is not clear what they want to do with it? This came from a reliably informed source, I promise. We will see what the future brings ….




  1. featured image: Charles Hindlip. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: ⌈Accessed 8 June 2017⌋.





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