Balancing act: Melanie Clore - Auctioneer/Saturday shopper/Delegation and cutting down on foreign business trips have helped the mother of two combine the demands of Sotheby's with the bustle of family life

Balancing act: Melanie Clore - Auctioneer/Saturday shopper/Delegation and cutting down on foreign business trips have helped the mother of two combine the demands of Sotheby's with the bustle of family life - When Melanie Clore was in her twenties working

by ALICE RAWSTHORN
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

When Melanie Clore was in her twenties working her way up the Impressionist and Modern Art department of Sotheby's in London, she made the most of foreign trips. If she went to Geneva or Paris, she would stay for two or three days to look around museums and to meet local art dealers and collectors. Occasionally she found time for shopping or lunch with friends.

These days, her trips are very different. At 40, Clore is deputy chairman of Sotheby's Europe and head of her old department, as well as being married with two young children. 'When I travel to Europe now, I do it as a day trip,' she says. 'I don't have time to stay longer, and I don't need to. My twenties were a time of getting to know people and educating my eye. I have been in the business for 19 years, so I know most of the collectors, dealers and museums.'

Clore joined Sotheby's after graduating in art history from Manchester University in 1981. After three months working in reception, she moved to the Impressionist and Modern Art department where she has stayed ever since. 'When I joined it was a small department of five or six people,' she recalls. 'As the market expanded in the 1980s, my position developed.' At 25, she took her first auction, and in 1990 became the first woman to take a prestigious black-tie evening auction. Unfortunately for Clore, it was the night the art market collapsed.

The market was still in the doldrums when she took charge of her department in 1992, but it had rallied by the time she joined Sotheby's European board two years later. 'Running a business through a recession into an expanding market was the best possible thing that could have happened in terms of experience. I wouldn't want to relive it, but it equipped me for business life,' she says.

Clore married Yaron Meshoulam, a retail consultant, in 1994, the same year she became a board member. In 1996 she had her first child, Theo.

A year later, she was promoted to deputy chairman, and gave birth to her daughter, Martha, the following year.

As deputy chairman, Clore is involved with decisions about everything from the implications of LVMH's acquisition of rival auction house, Phillips, to how Sotheby's can stave off competition from eBay, uBid and other online auctioneers. But the bulk of her time is spent running the Impressionist and Modern Art department across Europe, and liaising with colleagues in other regions. Some 30 people report directly or indirectly to Clore. Her job is to ensure that they secure the very best works for Sotheby's - like the exquisite Cezanne which hung on her office wall for a few weeks before being auctioned in London last December ('one of the perks of the job') - and then to sell them for the best possible prices.

'The thing about this job is that it is very erratic,' says Clore. 'No two days are the same because you are dealing with extraordinary works of art, and you can never anticipate when the next one will turn up. But it is very cyclical. The busiest times are the two big New York sales in May and November and London sales in June and December. The rest of the year is spent building up to them.'

Although Clore's responsibilities at Sotheby's mounted with each promotion, managing her time did not necessarily become more difficult. 'In many respects, things have become easier as I have become more senior, because I have been able to delegate,' she explains. 'This business is like a relay race. Everyone has to pick up the baton at some point. I am very lucky because I work with fantastic people and really enjoy being part of a team.'

Similarly, marriage made little difference to the balance between her professional and private life. Before having children, she and Meshoulam enjoyed meals with friends and regular visits to the cinema, theatre, museums and opera. Clore could also indulge her love of clothes by popping out of Sotheby's Bond Street headquarters into nearby shops. Since having Theo and Martha, the demands on her time have risen dramatically, and Clore has had to adapt, not just by cutting short her foreign business trips. 'Everything gets squeezed at the edges, and you have to identify what's really important,' she says. 'I don't have much time for myself, so I don't do indulgent things. You think twice about everything: who you see, whether to go to an exhibition and does your hair really need cutting?'

Clore has a Saturday ritual of taking Martha for a stroll around the shops near the family home in the Notting Hill area of west London. She and Meshoulam book baby-sitters so they can go out two nights a week and, occasionally, one night at weekends. Mostly, they eat out with friends or go to art events. 'We very seldom find time to go to the cinema. We used to go once a week - now it's every four months. It is the same with theatre and opera. But I had a good 14 years of being a girl about town.

I loved it then, but I love my life as it is now with the family.'

Her day normally starts at 7.30am when Theo and Martha wake up. After breakfast with them, she leaves for Sotheby's and arrives there at 9.30am.

'I really value being with the children in the evening before they go to bed, so I try to be home by 6.30pm.' On the nights she stays in, Clore telephones colleagues in New York once the children are asleep, and sometimes has time to call friends or write letters. One day a week, she returns home at lunch-time to take Theo to school. 'He goes there from 1pm to 3.45pm, so if I leave the office in a car at 12.30pm, I can pick him up, drop him off, and be back at my desk by 1.30pm.'

Clore's balancing act works - most of the time. 'But I am very, very lucky,' she says.

'I have a very supportive husband and a wonderful nanny. Every so often, you realise how fragile it all is. Our nanny went home to New Zealand for 12 weeks in November and the nanny filling in for her got tonsillitis.

So, we juggled. Yaron and I did a bit of 'shirtwork', called in grandparents and found another nanny to help them.

I am quite a trooper - if something like that happens, I just deal with it. But I wouldn't want to have to do that every week.'

< work="" :="" life="" drama="" 7.30am="" wakes="" up="" 'after="" a="" sleepless="" night'="" and="" has="" breakfast="" with="" the="" children.="" then="" tries="" to="" find="" 'something="" to="" wear="" through="" the="" day="" and="" then="" to="" a="" black-tie="" auction'.="" 9am="" arrives="" at="" sotheby's="" to="" find="" 'the="" phone="" ringing="" off="" the="" hook'.="" spends="" the="" morning="" on="" phone="" to="" sellers="" and="" prospective="" buyers="" and="" greeting="" clients="" from="" overseas.="" 1pm="" boardroom="" lunch="" with="" collectors.="" 2.30pm="" last="" showing="" of="" lots="" to="" potential="" buyers.="" 3pm="" gallery="" closes="" to="" be="" prepared="" for="" the="" evening="" auction.="" clore="" returns="" to="" her="" office="" for="" more="" phone="" calls.="" 5pm="" goes="" to="" the="" gallery="" to="" check="" lighting,="" acoustics="" and="" seating="" arrangements.="" 7pm="" auction="" begins.="" clore="" spends="" the="" sale="" on="" the="" phone="" with="" a="" client.="" 8.30pm="" press="" conference="" to="" discuss="" auction="" results.="" 9pm="" returns="" to="" her="" office="" to="" tell="" sellers="" the="" news.="" 10="" pm="" home="" for="" supper="" and="" a="" chat="" with="" husband.="" reads="" the="" catalogue="" for="" the="" next="" day's="" sale.="" 12am="" sleep.="" alice="" rawsthorn="" is="" the="" ft's="" architecture="" and="" design="" critic.="">

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