London auction house offers art and antiques courses

The London-based auction house Sotheby Parke Bernet has launched two new training courses designed to provide an introduction to the world of antiques and art.

The two courses, Styles in Art and 19th-20th Century Decorative Works of Art, each run for 3 month periods and operate in conjunction with Sotheby's popular 10-month Works of Art Course, now in its 11th year.

The Styles in Art course is really a minihistory of art, compressed into 13 weeks. Designed as a general introductory program, it ranges from the early 12 th century to 1925, highlighting periods of special creativity, such as the Renaissance, baroque, and rococo to 20th-century art deco.

"We're trying to give a panoramic view," says Geoffrey Squire, director of the course.

Classroom lectures, whih are kept to a minimum, are given in a modernized Kensington town house. Practical instruction in drawing, water-color painting, or printmaking is compulsory. But most of the time is spent in local museums and galleries, including visits to the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Gallery.

"The whole emphasis of the course is based on observation," Mr. Squire says. "We're trying to get people to analyze visually."

One recent week the class spent a full day examining and discussing a large consignment of silver loaned by Sotheby's. Students were encouraged to handle the pieces "to get the feel of them," and a Sotheby's expert was on hand to answer questions.

Mr. Squire, onetime theater designer and interior decorator, feels that the most important function of his course is to teach students to look.

"we don't require any art history background, nor do we set any age limit," he explains. "In fact we often find that people without any formal training in art history come to us with a more open mind and can make visual connections in an easier and more meaningful way.

"But most of all, they must have the interest. Then it's up to us to train the eye."

The 19th-20th Century Decorative Works of Art course is far more specified. According to director Barbara Morris, "decorative works of art" include furniture, glass, ceramics, carpets, textiles, jewelry, and photography -- everything except painting and sculpture. "We even look at plastics," she says. "I donht suppose many others study that."

Students have a close working relationship with Sotheby's Belgravia where they can gain firsthand knowledge of an auction house. They discuss forthcoming sales with the staff, talk about trends, prices, and predictions and visit sales. They also meet with dealers specializing in the period.

The course attracts a wide variety of students including collectors, antique dealers, and people interested in buying or selling.

The far more extensive 10-month course was originally launched in 1969 to train a handful of students to work for Sotheby's. As its popularity spread, Sotheby's decided to charge fees (now more than $4,000 including tax) and expand the yearly intake to 50.

The course admits students between the ages of 20 and 23. They are expected to have a university degree or equivalent and some background in art history.

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