Simon de Pury is an international auctioneer, advisor, art dealer, curator, photographer, and DJ. Simon’s upcoming auction series with his online platform de PURY starts monthly from July. 

What attracted you to the world of auctioneering?

When I realised that my first dream of becoming a major artist was not realistic, my next biggest dream was to start a career in the art market. Sotheby’s was the undisputed number one company in the field and the possibility of seeing major artworks on a daily basis made it an irresistible choice.

What’s the key to curating a world-class collection?

Your main responsibility is to assure the proper care and safekeeping of the collection. You then must ensure its access to the best experts and art historians of the time. Even the most important collections can become dormant if you don’t animate them with temporary exhibitions and exchanges with other cultural institutions.

As curator of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, I had the privilege of working for its owner Baron H H Thyssen-Bornemisza who gave me the green light for constantly developing new projects and initiatives.

Do you enjoy the performance aspect of an auction?

Auctions can last several hours and so it’s preferable to entertain your audience rather than sending them to sleep. As an auctioneer, you strive to obtain the highest possible price on behalf of the vendor. I started conducting auctions to overcome my natural shyness. Before every auction I am a nervous wreck. Once I am on the podium Dr Jekyll becomes Mr Hyde and I have fun.

How has technology and the online world changed the marketplace? 

The art market has initially successfully defended the status quo and resisted the changes that the technological revolution has made to most other markets. The pandemic finally forced the art world to adapt and, in two and a half years of Covid, it made more strides forward using technology than during the preceding two decades.

Which piece of art has left a lasting impression?

This could be a fairly long list. But I’ll choose the frescoes of Piero della Francesca in the Bacci Chapel in Arezzo. When I was 12 years old my mother took me on a trip to Florence, Siena and Arezzo. In hindsight, this woke up my passion for art. 

What’s the most expensive item you’ve sold?

A Tahitian work by Paul Gauguin for the price of US$210 million.

What’s the rarest item you own?

A South German wood carving of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus and stamping her foot on a dragon. I bought it on a drunken night during the 1980s when an antiques dealer opened his shop for me at 3am.

How important is philanthropy to your work?

It takes up a substantial part of my time. I’ve raised hundreds of millions of dollars for various charities around the world. 

Who’s your favourite artist?

This could also be a long list. Pablo Picasso, who is a towering figure not just in 20th century art but in art history in general. 

What’s your favourite gallery abroad?

The Neue Galerie in New York, founded by Ronald Lauder.

What’s been your most rewarding travel experience?

Maybe my last trip which took me to Cappadocia in Turkey. It was a totally magical and spiritual experience.

And most challenging?

My three trips to Mali are unquestionably some of the most exciting travels I have ever undertaken. Our small boat on the Niger River in Mali caught fire at a place infested with crocodiles on one occasion. I thank my lucky stars for having survived it.

What’s your dream destination?

Peru and Machu Picchu in particular.

What’s your inflight entertainment pick?

Films. The only place where I get to see recent movies are on board.

What’s your indispensable travel gadget?

A pair of good trainers that allow me to walk for hours.