INTRIGUED by works of Old Masters like Vincent van Gogh and Michelangelo since she was a child, Ms Merit-Verena Eisenmann knew early on she wanted to be an art historian and curator.

Today, as a specialist in European Old Masters, she can tell you about the symbolism of an art piece, when it was completed and what frame of mind the artist was in when he painted it.

Her favourites include Pieter Claesz’s still life oil paintings and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s depictions of classical antiquity.

“I love the romance depicted in Alma-Tadema’s works, particularly The Roses Of Heliogabalus,” she says. “Claesz’s pieces are so life-like, you can almost smell the fruit in them.”

Her grandmother, a medical doctor who was an avid painter like herself, was the one who introduced her to art.

“She loved classical art but she was also very interested in culture,” says Ms Eisenmann, who speaks four European languages.

“She used to travel a lot and often showed me photographs of beautiful artifacts in Asia and all that had a tremendous impact on me.”

Paid her own way

Although she had to pay her own way through college, she was determined to do an art history master's degree (Magister Artium) at LudwigMaximilianUniversity in Munich, Germany — one of the most prestigious universities in Europe.

During the five-year course, she studied fine art, manuscripts, illuminations, architecture and art historical movements of Europe from AD 800 to 2000.

“The curriculum was extremely rigorous but it broadened my knowledge and gave me an in-depth appreciation of art,” she says.

She later worked in the NationalBavarianMuseum, one of the most important museums of decorative arts in Europe, to gain insight into the work of curators and restorers.

Wanting to understand the art market better, she then pursued a Masters of Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London and worked at Sotheby’s before moving to Singapore to explore the budding art industry in Asia.

The 33-year-old is currently a partner and curatorial director at Lucanna, an art auction house in Singapore.

She curates Lucanna’s themed auctions which focus on the middle market of the art and antiquities market, ranging from several thousand dollars up to US$100,000 (S$125,000).

“Through my contacts in the international art market, I source for artworks, antiquities, luxury timepieces and investment-grade gemstones; and organise live auctions for them to be auctioned off,” she says.

Benefit auctions for charity

She also runs Lucanna’s benefit auctions, which offer charities a platform to raise funds.

In September, the auction house will hold the first of a benefit auction series for Willing Hearts — a volunteer-run, non-profit organisation set up to provide food for the needy in Singapore.

Auctions give an insight into the human psyche, she revealed. It is important how auctions are organised to guarantee that most of the works are sold.

“In themed auctions, it is nice to pair up works that show a common subject like bulldogs, for example, or those of a similar style,” she explains.

“To keep bidders interested throughout the auction, which could last an entire day, we start with works of lower value, spice the auction with some exciting highlights before the ‘star lot’ is revealed toward the end of the auction.”

To guarantee the best due diligence process, she works with a network of reputable, accredited experts worldwide to ensure each lot is properly appraised and catalogued.

Ms Eisenmann is also responsible for Lucanna’s private sales, which include masterpieces by European and Asian artists such as Claude Monet and Wan Wing Sum.

She is constantly on the lookout for new potential buyers and collectors who wish to trade art pieces.

She and the founder of Lucanna, Mr Wong U-Yun, are setting up an innovative online live bidding auction and gallery platform, the first in Asia.

When asked about the feasibility of this concept, she explains: “Many art collectors send representatives or bid via telephone during auctions because they prefer to be anonymous.”

“Because of this mentality, we believe the future of the auction business lies online. Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy is also embarking on an online auction platform for Christie’s.”

Nurturing new talent is also something close to her heart. She intends to set aside a section of Lucanna’s online gallery for young emerging artists worldwide.

“As a curator, I source for artists globally and have met highly talented emerging artists in Asia, including Singapore,” she says.

“I believe showcasing these artists and exposing their artworks to our international collector base is important in supporting new art talent.”

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