The art of the perfect fit

Working in the Arts: Victoria Clay

Posted by Emma Restall in News · August 2023

This month’s Working in the Arts segment focusses on Victoria Clay who is the Junior Cataloguer and Valuer for the Paintings and Jewellery departments at Catherine Southon Auctioneers and Valuers.

Where do you work?

I work at Catherine Southon Auctioneers and Valuers.

What is your job title?

I am a Junior Cataloguer and Valuer for the Paintings and Jewellery departments. I am also the Junior Auctioneer after auctioneering in my first sale this year.

What time did you wake up? What are your usual working hours?

I wake up at 7:00am to allow plenty of time and take a moment to look at the traffic report as I drive to work – which is crucial during term time! I work from 9 – 5pm most days, however during the build-up to the auction and auction week, I will sometimes stay late to answer last minute queries and condition reports, as well as be on hand in case anyone needs an extra pair of hands!

What are your key tasks?

I have the great pleasure of being able to handle some of the fabulous items that come to us for auction.

I primarily catalogue for the Pictures Department, as my auction career started in pictures, which involves meeting prospective clients and conducting an initial valuation, researching artists, studying the condition of the works and determining the artwork’s value. This is incredibly rewarding as I get to see the process from beginning to end, from consignment to sale and seeing something really fly on the auction day is always thrilling. I am learning more and more every day as the junior cataloguer of the jewellery department. I am tasked with cataloguing what would be described as ‘easy’ items for someone new to jewellery, so gold rings, necklaces, bracelets etc, and I am moving on to more challenging, higher value items as a result. I have the great privilege of learning from our Senior Jewellery Specialist, who I pepper with questions on a daily basis!

In addition to my responsibilities in the two departments, I also investigate new locations for our valuation days, where we meet prospective clients and value their items. My favourite location was our most recent summer valuation day at the National Trust Property, Small Hythe House.

What was your career path to this role?

My path to auction was certainly the one less travelled by, as I don’t have a degree in History of Art or any art related subject.

I studied archaeology at University, which now I think about it, was actually a very useful background to have. It taught me the significance of objects and artefacts, and how their value and meaning changes over the years, and that is very much the case with auction. An object’s importance and value is really centred on its provenance,  which is absolutely crucial for some items.

Just as I finished university, Covid struck. Getting a job during that time was tough and whilst I was thrown into a paroxysm of worry about my career prospects, it gave me a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do. A friend suggested I looked at Coursera, a fantastic website which offers a plethora of free online courses in a variety of different subjects. I decided to do a free online course in Arts and Heritage management. During the course I was introduced to auctions, and their role in the Arts and Heritage world. It sparked my interest immediately, and after a bit of searching, I saw that Christies offered online courses in understanding auction. I immediately signed up and after the first lecture I was hooked. I wanted to work in an auction house.  I began researching and found an article which interviewed a Jewellery specialist from one of the top auction houses, and her piece of advice was to try local auction houses in my area for experience. From this, I started looking in my local area. I emailed various houses with my CV and a cover letter, asking if there any chance of work experience. I heard nothing back. I carried on, relentlessly emailing as many local auction houses as I could, in the hope that one would get back to me. Finally, after months of what seemed like fruitless emailing, calling and job applications, I got a response. From there I went for an interview for an internship and subsequently started interning at an auction house, specialising in Maritime antiques. I was offered my first permanent auction position with another auctioneer 6 months later in the paintings department. Whilst I was there, I found I was constantly drawn to the jewellery department, always looking at the fabulous pieces they had. I knew this was an area I wanted to explore. Skip to nearly a year later, I am now looking forward to the start of my FGA later this year and cataloguing more and more jewellery as I continue to learn.

Best thing about my job: 

All the lovely items I get to handle and learn about!

Worst thing about my job: 

Not being able to attribute a painting to an artist straight away; it can be very frustrating. But that is what research is for!

Careers advice for your 18-year-old self:

You have absolutely no clue what you want to do and that is okay!  Take your time finding what really interests you and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing – you’ll be fine!

Secret job:

I worked at Bodiam Castle as a volunteer; I had to dress up in Medieval attire and talk about the history of the castle to the visitors – Huzzah!

Thank you to Victoria for taking the time to talk to us and look out for future insights into the art world.

Notes from DRAW · 08.08.2023

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