Decisions: Harriet Bridgeman, The Bridgeman Art Library

The founder and chairman of the fine art picture agency explains her best decisions in business...and her worst.

by Emma De Vita
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

MY BEST DECISION ...

... was to start this business. I used to edit an antiques magazine and finding pictures at short notice was always a problem - even the National Gallery and the Tate weren't properly geared up for photographs. We often had to send our own photographers and no picture researcher knew where anything was because so few collections could afford to have their own catalogues.

While editing Discovering Antiques, I realised it would be much more convenient if we could provide a central database of images. All the rights holders would benefit, because they weren't making much money from the photographs of their paintings. I launched Bridgeman Art Library in 1972; I had never planned to start my own business but I'm obviously a bit of an entrepreneur. I didn't go out of my way to find a hole in the market; it just sort of came to me, which is probably the best way.

I'm enormously happy to be working with art - I travel around the world looking at collections and meeting people with the same interests. It's a thoroughly civilised and totally enjoyable way of life.

MY WORST DECISION ...

This is absolutely not the advice people give, but I'm not keen on business plans - I didn't do one for Bridgeman Art Library. So my worst decision was writing a business plan when I set up a second company, the Artists' Collecting Society, in 2006 because I lost a very valuable five months.

I had been lobbied by the British Art Market Federation and the Society of London Art Dealers to start another collecting society, because of an EU directive that was introduced in the UK on St Valentine's Day that year.

There was one collecting society in England then and there was a feeling that there should be an alternative to give people a choice. I agreed to do this but I had a director who told me that I must do a business plan so I reluctantly followed his advice. The big-name artists had wanted to join us, but because I couldn't go ahead until this plan had been completed, the alternative collecting society moved in and signed up a lot of them.

I would certainly say when you believe in something, just go for it.

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