Left The entrance to the new Christie’s Education HQ on Portland Place, London. Right Christie’s Education graduates outside Rockefeller Center

‘A springboard into the art world’ — 40 years of Christie’s Education

To mark the 40th anniversary of Christie’s Education, as well as the opening of a new London campus, six well-known alumni reflect on their time as students and how the experience has served them in their high-profile careers

Founded in London in 1978, Christie’s Education now has campuses in New York, Hong Kong and Dubai and has recently opened a brand new campus at 42 Portland Place in London. With emphasis on both art history and the market, the courses at graduate and postgraduate level have, for 40 years, allowed a unique insight into the art world. 

Many alumni have gone on to forge high-profile careers in the art world, including Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie’s lead auctioneer and Global President. After reading English Literature at Oxford University, Pylkkänen recalls how he planned ‘to realise a lifelong ambition to work in the art market’.  

‘My grandfather, who had been a Professor of the Arts in Finland, had always seen London as the epicentre of the global cultural community, whether it be in the fine arts, the decorative arts, theatre, literature or film,’ Pylkkänen recalls. ‘Whilst still a student I had written an article about the world record-breaking sale of Andrea Mantegna’s Adoration of the Magiwhich I had come to view at Christie’s King Street. Seeing the picture, and visiting the global home of auctioneering, made a lasting impression and cemented in my mind that one day I would like to become a specialist at the firm.’

For the young Pylkkänen, enrolling on a year-long course with Christie's Education was the logical next step. It was a similar story for these other Christie’s Education alumni, all of whom now occupy prestigious roles within the art world.

The alumni

Jussi Pylkkänen (Global President, Christie’s): ‘I did the Fine Art course at Christie’s Education in 1984.’

Helen Allen (Executive Director, The Winter Show): ‘I did the Christie’s Fine Art and Connoisseurship programme in London in 1994–95.’

Tobias Meyer (art dealer in New York and former principal auctioneer and Head of Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s): ‘I left school aged 18 in 1981, and as I’d been going to auctions since I was 14, my father suggested the Christie’s course.’

Jennifer Roberts (Chief Executive Officer of Design Miami): ‘I studied Early Renaissance to Modern Fine and Decorative Arts from 1995–96 in London.”

Emily Sharpe (Editor, Fairs and Special Projects, The Art Newspaper): ‘I did two courses in London. In 2002-03, I did a postgraduate Diploma in Art and Architecture from Antiquity to the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Then in 2003-04, I did an M.Phil in History of Art and Connoisseurship.’

Mashonda Tifrere (author, songwriter and founder of ArtLeadHER, a platform dedicated to promoting female artists): ‘[I took] the Art Business programme. I began classes in New York City in 2016.’

Inside the new Christie’s Education premises in London

Inside the new Christie’s Education premises in London

What are your abiding memories of your time as a Christie’s Education student?

Jussi Pylkkänen: ‘My year spent at Christie’s Education at South Kensington was challenging but superb. I will be eternally grateful to Robert Cumming, Patrick Bade and the senior staff of the Christie’s Fine Art Course for their dedication and patience, which was certainly necessary when trying to teach me the difference between the great British silversmiths of the 19th century, the Cubist pictures of Picasso and Braque, or the great British architects of the 18th century.’

Emily Sharpe: ‘I have fond memories of our field trips — a morning spent at Salisbury Cathedral; a curator leading us into the bowels of the British Museum; or a day spent at Broughton Hall, shown around by the owners. Through the course I also met a diverse group of people that I’m certain I would not have met on my own.’

Jennifer Roberts: ‘It was the first time I had been able to take classes devoted to furniture and decorative arts, and I loved it. One of the highlights was studying the many incredible estates, collections and museums housing fine and decorative arts. It trained my eye and taught me how to look at objects. I can’t speak of my time there without mention of the friendships that formed. More than 20 years later, I am still in touch with a number of classmates.’

Tobias Meyer: ‘At that time it was not as formal as it is now. I was so happy because finally I was in a world that was interested in the same thing as me. I had found my niche.’

Mashonda Tifrere: ‘I have so many excellent memories. I remember hustling through the cold New York City streets that first day of class. I settled into my chair, apprehensive because I hadn't been in a classroom for nearly 20 years, but also excited to see what the professor had in store.’

Helen Allen: ‘I have so many lasting memories, most of which revolve around the deep friendships I developed during the programme. I loved our field trips, our tea breaks, the amazing guest speakers.’

The Common Room at the old Christies Education HQ on Old Brompton Road, London, circa 1979

The Common Room at the old Christie's Education HQ on Old Brompton Road, London, circa 1979

Which aspect of studying at Christie’s has been most useful in your subsequent career?

Tobias Meyer: ‘To have open eyes and be curious. The curriculum covered everything from Giotto to Rothko and there’s a lot to be seen and learned. Although my real passion was French furniture, I was interested in contemporary art because I liked the idea of not knowing about something.’

Emily Sharpe: ‘Both in terms of contacts as well as insight into the mechanics of the art world, the access that Christie’s Education provides is invaluable. That has helped me many times throughout my career.’

Jennifer Roberts: ‘My education at Christie’s afforded me many opportunities to work in different fields in the fine and decorative arts market. I was able to identify many more avenues to explore within the art world, from auction houses to publishing to startups and eventually fairs.’

Mashonda Tifrere: ‘As a student of the Christie's Art Business programme, I had unbelievable access to the facility, its faculty, and the actual auction house. It was incredibly useful to gain knowledge about some of the most important art transactions in the world. This level of information is what every art entrepreneur needs as a springboard into the real art world.’

Helen Allen: ‘Perhaps the work ethic I honed and the network that I began developing as a result of the programme.’

Jussi Pylkkänen: ‘On a daily basis I still put to good use what I learnt at Christie’s in 1984 as I meet collectors from around the globe here in our salerooms and on my frequent travels.’ 

The communal dining space at the new premises at 42 Portland Place, London
The communal dining space at the new premises at 42 Portland Place, London

Would you recommend Christie’s Education?

Jennifer Roberts: ‘It is truly the chance of a lifetime to have access to collections in ways that you may not on your own, and to create relationships that last a lifetime. Lastly, I look to hire Christie’s alum as they will have a solid foundation and a good work ethic – assuming they made it out in one piece!’

Helen Allen: ‘Absolutely and wholeheartedly! I adored my time at Christie’s Education and really appreciate having been exposed to areas of study that I would not have otherwise.’

Mashonda Tifrere: ‘Christie's is a legendary institution, and the lessons provided are packed with the most valuable information from the most respected professionals in the world.’

Tobias Meyer: ‘The opportunity to be in London or New York at the centre of the art world means you can see an enormous amount. Not simply looking at books, but at the real thing. Seeing Christie’s Education on the CV of someone gives you some kind of assurance that this is not the first time that they have thought about going to an auction.’

Emily Sharpe: ‘The sheer practicality of Christie’s Education courses are its strength. They offer both academic and hands-on tuition. I was able to up my game in terms of connoisseurship, while learning about the business side of the art world.’

Jussi Pylkkänen: ‘No young person’s education is complete without a year or two on Christie’s Fine Art Course.’

Christie’s Education graduates line up outside Rockefeller Center in New York
Christie’s Education graduates line up outside Rockefeller Center in New York

What advice would you now offer to your student self?

Mashonda Tifrere: ‘Take lots of notes. Every lesson is gold!’

Helen Allen: ‘Keep up with your friendships and contacts and find reasons to stay in touch. Be open to new opportunities and embrace the unfamiliar.’

Jennifer Roberts: ‘You may go into the market thinking you know what you want to do, but there are so many paths to choose from; just try a few and it will all lead to somewhere good.’

Emily Sharpe: ‘Embrace every opportunity that comes your way. Keep an open mind about your career path because if you’re too narrowly focused, you may pass up a brilliant opportunity you hadn’t originally considered (or even realised existed).’

Tobias Meyer: ‘I would say get a heated apartment — my place in London didn’t have any! I would warm myself with a blow dryer it was so cold!’