The Elite Professionals Who Assist Wealthy Art Collectors

How London’s buying consultants, framers and lighting specialists find and display clients’ masterpieces

By Ruth Bloomfield via The Wall Street Journal

An American art collector is offering his London apartment for lease at almost $5,000 a week. The new tenant will be able to enjoy works by Cindy Sherman, Candida Hofer, Edward Burtynsky and Annie Leibovitz, among others. PHOTO: SOTHEBY’S INTERNATIONAL REALTY

Art buyers make global headlines when they pay record prices for a new addition to their collection, such as the recent sale of a da Vinci painting for over $450 million.

But behind every art collector, there is an entourage of buying consultants, gallerists, framers and lighting specialists to make sure they buy the right piece and display it just so.

Broadly speaking, there are three classes of art buyers, says Polly Robinson, executive director of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac London. Some simply want something beautiful for their home. Some are knowledgeable and voracious collectors with a “huge appetite” for a particular genre. And then there are those shopping for a status symbol in the form of a Matisse or Picasso. “They have the real estate, the yacht, the car…they want something that will give them a kind of intellectual kudos,” she adds.

Whatever their motivation, high-end buyers tend to outsource the effort of finding suitable pieces to people like art consultant Angus Maguire, who spends his days scouring auction houses and commercial galleries around the world in search of pieces to add to his clients’ collections. He can also assist if they decide to sell a piece later on. The job also includes advising on a work’s authenticity and provenance: “The art world is really exposed to criminal activity, fakes and stolen works,” he says.

The services of an art consultant don’t come cheap.

Mr. Maguire says the typical fee is 5% of a piece’s buying price, plus 10% of any resale profit.

Some clients prefer to hire their consultants on an annual retainer, with the fee depending on how much they spend—around 10% if their annual budget on art is £200,000 ($264,000), or around 5% if they plan to spend £500,000 ($660,500).

Recently, one of Mr. Maguire’s clients—he declined to disclose the name—spent $10 million on a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. But the piece was too large for the client’s London home and had to be left in storage. Instead Mr. Maguire sourced a smaller preparatory drawing that the client has been able to hang up and enjoy.

Once purchased, buyers typically turn to custom framers. Matt Jones, chairman of John Jones, says a simple wood frame can be completed in around three weeks, at an average cost of $700. More elaborate gilded or metal frames can cost up to $24,000. Mr. Jones is currently advising an Asian collector on the framing of a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph purchased at Christie’s Auction House last month. Although confidentiality is key in the art world, the piece Mr. Jones is likely referring to is a self-portrait of the artist from 1988, which sold for almost $600,000.

Mr. Jones jokes that his workshops are currently “a bit of a Banksy hospital.” He’s referring to the smart buyers who picked up prints, in basic frames, by the anonymous graffiti artist for just over $100 and that are now worth $18,000 to $26,000.

Ms. Robinson, the gallerist, says some clients buy art with a specific location in mind. “Very often there will be a major wall in their salon or behind a fireplace, and they need a trophy piece,” she says. A few elite collectors, however, want an entire private gallery.

The architect Gianni Botsford recently designed a gallery behind a historic townhouse in Fitzrovia, in London’s West End. The showstopping geometric steel-and-glass gallery features semitransparent steel mesh panels on which works are displayed. These panels slide along ceiling tracks to reveal multiple layers of hanging space.

Nearby, the artist Damien Hirst’s ongoing renovation of a mansion in the Regent’s Park neighborhood, which he bought in 2014 for a reported $57 million, features a new double-height basement where he will be able to display a selection of his extensive collection.

Harry Triggs co-director of TM Lighting, says one of his clients has 47 Picassos hung in the living room—and he casually lists other clients’ works by everyone from Degas to Caravaggio, and from van Gogh to Titian.

“I saw a collector recently who had £1 billion worth of art in their house,” adds Mr. Triggs, whose role it is to display these masterpieces to their best advantage. He uses LED lighting to avoid fading while “bringing out the color and vibrancy” of the work.

Some collections are so large their owners need to relocate works regularly, says Alma Luxembourg, a partner at Luxembourg & Dayan, a gallery with locations in London and New York.

“A lot of the collections change their hangings at their homes every now and again,” she says. “It is done to their own rhythm, but perhaps they decide they want to look at a piece they bought a few years ago.”

That’s because many pieces sold at major international art fairs and auctions around the world don’t end up on the walls of their buyers. Instead they’re placed in a high-security warehouse, for reasons of space and practicality.

“If you have spent $1 million on a Picasso drawing, you are speculating that it is going to go up in value,” says Mr. Maguire. “Pretty much everyone is speculating and stockpiling.” Having art on the wall “is very expensive in terms of insurance, and they run out of space.”