Alumni Profile: Andrew McKenzie
'Head of Old Master Paintings' at Bonhams in London, Andrew McKenzie was a pupil at Bede's Prep School from 1968 - 1977 and received a degree from Cambridge. Andrew tells of us of his time at Bede's and the highlights of his career at Bonhams.
When were you at Bede's and which House were you in?
1968-1977. I also came back to teach French, Maths and History during my year off before university in 1983-4. I was in Hawk House.
What are your fondest memories of your time at Bede's School?
The stunning location beside the Downs and Beachy Head. I loved what was called "Rambling" in which we were simply left to play as we liked in "The Hollow" above Holywell.
The Christmas Carol Service at the chapel of All Saint's Hospital was always very beautiful.
What are your least fond memories?
I wasn't personally very keen on Games which we played every afternoon, although I loved swimming, both in the sea and particularly when the new swimming pool was built.
Who were your favourite teachers at school and why?
Mr Cousin was popular with everyone, both because he was a nice person and taught science in a way that made it very enjoyable for children. Also Mr Pyemont (Peter) who taught English and always chose excellent books to read; and Mrs MacDonald (Mrs Mac) was a popular art teacher.
What were your particular hobbies or interests at School and do they feature in your life now?
I learned the violin, playing in the school orchestra and, although I no longer play, music is a very important interest of mine today. I particularly love Purcell and Handel which are thanks to our music teacher, Mr Woodcock's influence. He also taught us the Jacobite period of history when I was in the 3rd form which has had a major influence on my interest in History.
Mr Woodcock had the inspirational idea of teaching us the history, music, art and architecture of the period all together, including us performing a musical about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the 'Forty-Five' which brought the whole period to life. This is a period I remain interested in, both professionally, since as a specialist in Old Master Paintings this is the period I cover. In my personal life I am particularly interested in this period of my family's history and I have recently written and published a History of the Clan Mackenzie.
Mr. Gray also encouraged my brother, Kevin and I to join the Eastbourne Astronomical Society which allows me to follow developments in Astronomy today with interest.
How did your experiences as a pupil at Bede's influence the paths you have followed in life?
Pursuing a degree and then a career related to History I am sure I owe something to the way in which it was well-taught. My continued interest in Music and Literature also began with what we were taught at St. Bede's.
Is there any one person who has had a particular influence on you and the decisions you have made in your life?
Although he was quite a strict teacher and formidable to many children, my historical interests and musical taste were certainly influenced by Mr Woodcock.
Is there anything or anyone else you would like to mention?
Mr Lord, who was Deputy Headmaster when I was at St. Bede's and taught me Latin and R.E. was a lovely man and I was very sorry to hear recently that he had died.
What was your academic journey and career path into the world of art?
After leaving St. Bede's I went on to Eastbourne Grammar School (which subsequently became Eastbourne Sixth From College). I then read History at Downing College, Cambridge, after which I was determined to pursue a career related to History and since my father was a collector of antiques I wrote to the London auction houses and got a job at Bonhams. After a brief period doing Prints, I became Head of the Old Masters Department.
How long have you been working at Bonhams?
I started at the end of 1987. I then worked from 1994 at Phillips but returned in 2000 to Bonhams, a company I have always been fond of and in which I have many friends. In fact, it so happened that the two companies then merged the following year, so I am now lucky enough to work with good friends from both companies.
What does your role as Bonhams UK Board Director, Old Master Paintings involve?
I am in charge of the Old Master Paintings Department, which handles European paintings from the late middle ages to the early nineteenth century. It is largely a business-getting role, involving much travel in the UK, Europe and the United Sates, as well as researching and writing about the pictures we sell.
What are the most memorable challenges you have faced during your time working in the art world?
Being part of a relatively small company compared to the better-known Sotheby's and Christie's, but when we have notable successes this can be all the more satisfying and rewarding.
What has been your most interesting, memorable or famous artwork that you have come across?
A portrait which was believed by its owner to be by his great-uncle who was a Victorian painter and sent in for sale expecting it to be worth a few hundred pounds. After spotting its true age and sheer quality and then doing extensive research, it proved to be by the great 17th century artist, Velásquez and it made £3 million at auction.
What is the most interesting 'auction moment' you have ever witnessed?
A year ago I sold a portrait by the 18th century French artist, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, which sold for £17.1 million and was the most expensive Old Master Painting sold that year at auction anywhere in the world.
How do you balance work with relaxation and how do you spend your leisure time?
Art history is still very much an interest of mine outside work, particularly when I travel in Europe which I love doing. Much of my time is spent on researching family history, a hobby I share with Kevin, one of my brothers (who was also at St. Bede's). I am a committee member of the Clan Mackenzie Society and often visit the Highlands of Scotland, a place I love very much.
If you were to offer advice to any Bedian who is just about to start their career, what would it be?
No doubt everyone is different but I have always found that it is easier to be good at something if you find it interesting and ideally love the subject.