Louise Gréther starts her day at 5.42 precisely. That’s when her alarm goes off and it gives her enough time to join the small group of early risers at the Digue, where their 6 am Boost Monaco workout takes place. “It could be anything”, she says, “we do boxing, running and exercises that really set me up for the day… All under the supervision of Damian Fisher whose energy is rather astonishing.”
“I am at home at 7.05, laying breakfast together with my three children, getting ready for work. I drop off my youngest, Hector, at school for 8 and shortly after that I am at my office ready for the challenges of the day.”
Louise is the Director of Artcurial Monaco, a multidisciplinary auction house “that combines real passion for art with a great entrepreneurial spirit“. Its Paris headquarters are in the spectacular Hotel Marcel Dassault, hosting over 150 auctions per year from Contemporary art to Old Masters, Street Art, Motorcars and Design amongst others.
Before opening its office in Monaco in 2015 Artcurial had been hosting summer sales here for 15 years. “But the problem was that they were closing after one week and going back up to Paris and not having a presence here”, says Louise. She met its Maitre, François Tajan, when she moved to the Principality with her husband – an airline pilot – and their three young children.
“Ten months later he said: ‘Why don’t you open an office for us.”
“But you must be mad,” I said.
“He told me he felt I had the right profile.” Louise had not heard of Artcurial before she met Francois Tajan and she had no experience in running an auction house, but she did possess resourcefulness, diplomacy and calm persistence – the skillsets that characterise her mission for Artcurial today.
She grew up in the countryside of Hampshire and went to a girls only Catholic convent school where she was a boarding student from 6 until 18 years old. “I have fond memories because it was a beautiful school in wonderful surroundings in the middle of Hampshire…but nuns could be very mean,” she adds with laughter. “I developed long-lasting friendships there so looking back I see it as a good experience.”
Louise had always had an aptitude for art and English language but despite this she chose politics and economics at Edinburgh University.
“I wanted to get away as far as possible from the controlled environment; those hideous green uniforms with long beige socks, we weren’t allowed to express ourselves in any way whatsoever so Edinburgh was a good choice.”
Shortly after graduation Louise got a job at the BBC. She worked for Crimewatch UK, a monthly programme in which the public was invited to help solve real crime cases. This was a very successful programme and to get to work in the team was a real scoop.
“I can be very determined”, Louise says, “I wrote a long letter to the producer saying it had always been my dream to work on this programme at the BBC, and please give me a chance and they said come along for two weeks and then we’ll see.”
Louise was a researcher for the programme but was also involved in many aspects of production, and even found herself playing dead in a field for a case reconstruction.
“I stayed about a year. It was a fabulous opportunity and we managed to solve quite a few cases by putting the puzzles together. But when the main presenter of the programme Jill Dando was murdered – possibly as an act of vengeance, it all got a bit scary. Her case has not been solved to this day.”
Shortly afterwards Louise started working for the European Union on election monitoring missions in various countries. “I spent two or three years as a long-term election observer. I went to Nigeria, in Lagos. On one occasion I was working in Baluchistan in Pakistan, for a long time living with a family. I had to wear the burka. It was very interesting and I absolutely loved it.”
When Louise was put in charge of an entire region she had to organise short-term observers and had to deploy them on the ground and collate all the information and report back to head office. “Working with different cultures and interpreters was absolutely fascinating,” she says.
Her work took her to several of the ‘stans’ of Central Asia, to Madagascar, Ethiopia and Bosnia, among others.
The most challenging was Mauretania, which she describes as very poor and a difficult environment.
After her return she decided to do a Masters at John Hopkins, in International Relations and Economics, and started working for an American business and intelligence consultancy, another fascinating opportunity.
“Again, they said come for two weeks and prove yourself, and I never left. I was there nearly seven years in which I had good training in due diligence and diplomacy – extremely helpful in the art world.”
“When we had a second child my husband, who is Monegasque, said “why don’t we move to Monaco. I said “no way, I’m going to hate the place. I had my preconceptions and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to work.”
Both have been proven wrong. Within a year Louise was opening Artcurial Monaco, only days after Artcurial’s famous sale of the furniture of the Hotel de Paris and also the sale of part of the collection of the Prince’s cars. So the bar was set high and the position was challenging.
“I was nervous. During my first day in the office I was sitting here and didn’t know where to start but slowly the tasks were there and I had to find a way to deal with them.”
Louise is now responsible for a large part of the Côte d’Azur, “practically to Marseille and a little bit of Italy, too. We have close collaboration with the Milan office, and Brussels, and Paris, of course.”
“Everything is centred around the two sales we have each year, in January and July. So we are either working towards a sale or dealing with post-sales issues, such as a client coming in to pay, for example. We hold expertise days in the Hotel Hermitage once a month for jewellery and watches. And very regularly I have other experts from other departments coming down. No two days are the same, which is the beauty of this business.”
“We don’t actively search for buyers, we don’t need to do that, but we really do have to have the right objects, and not just the jewellery, watches, and Hermes vintage. There are 150 sales in Paris each year and I also track down pieces for these sales.”
“I have a reasonable eye to spot interesting pieces. It’s like a treasure hunt, to get to the person you need to speak to, really”, says Louise, adding: “I’m more of a diplomat. I know when something is interesting and I call on my experts when I need them.”
Asked how it is possible to find pieces, Louise said: “You have to be very creative. Already we have a good network here on the ground, and our reputation is very good.”
“A good reputation is real capital in the auctions world and to protect your reputation at all times is one of the key tasks of everybody involved. You have to develop a good network of people who go on to recommend you. And you have to be very inventive in expanding your network and getting the Artcurial name out.”
All in a bespoke manner of course. “We don’t do champagne receptions, for example. My clients wouldn’t set a toe in a champagne reception. But they do want to come and hear my experts talk, in a very small group. We organise very exclusive events on a monthly basis sometimes in partnership with local banks.”
“I’m lucky in that the DNA of Artcurial is very entrepreneurial. They take decisions very quickly and they give me a lot of leeway.”
Last July Artcurial Monaco hosted the biggest summer auction in its history achieving 24 million euros in sales. The demand from people asking for estimations and the buyers themselves is almost unprecedented and still going strong.
“The luxury market has lasted the storm and the demand for luxury on the secondary market has even risen over the past two years, particularly for signed pieces like Cartier, Hermes and their very sought-after vintage and unique pieces.”
Working in this field and despite all the expensive items that she has dealt with her relationship with luxury hasn’t changed. “I am not really attached to it to be honest because I also see that it doesn’t matter in life whether you’ve got a Hermes bag or not. It doesn’t mean you are happier.”
But Louise Gréther is very happy living in Monaco and working at Artcurial. “Our last sale was a fabulous success. We partnered with SBM and had our monumental sculptures dotted around hotels in the Principality, it was so good to add something different to our usual portfolio. Our Artcurial Motorcars came down and thirty of my colleagues from Paris arrived and we celebrated a great achievement.”
“After seven years of being here I see that all the groundwork one puts in at the beginning pays off. This is definitely a game of patience.”