Scott Schaefer’s retirement turns out to have been more like a pit stop.
After 15 years at the J. Paul Getty Museum, whose collection he helped improve as senior paintings curator, Schaefer is taking his eye and art-historical acumen back to the Sotheby’s auction house, where he’d worked for 10 years before coming to the Getty in 1999.
Sotheby’s announced Thursday that Schaefer, who is in his mid-60s, will begin his next job, senior vice president of international fine arts, starting at the end of March. He’ll be based in L.A., but will work with clients worldwide. He’d retired from the Getty in January.
Andrea Fiuczynski, head of Sotheby’s West Coast operations, said in a statement announcing the hiring that Schaefer “brings unmatched gravitas, scholarship and strong relationships to our West Coast team,” along with “his passion for exceptional works of all types.”
As a museum curator in L.A., Schaefer shepherded 75 art acquisitions for the Getty and 50 or more for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where he’d worked from 1980 to 1987 as its first curator of European paintings.
In an interview on the eve of his departure from the Getty, Schaefer told the Los Angeles Times that he thought of the works he’d been instrumental in acquiring as “my children, but some I love more than others.”
If a museum is a permanent adoptive home for art, an auction house can be seen as an adoption agency of sorts, its success hinging on finding the most eligible waifs and making them seem irresistibly adorable to potential foster parents, either for their intrinsic qualities or for their value as investments -- although most of the action for art as an investment is in the post-World War II sector that has not been Schaefer’s focus.
The Getty’s auction acquisitions under Schaefer included J.M.W. Turner’s 1839 painting “Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino,” bought for $44.9 million at a 2010 Sotheby’s auction in London; it had been consigned by a British family whose forbears had acquired it at an auction 132 years earlier.
“I look forward to returning to Sotheby’s and continuing to unite clients with the world-class objects that the company is privileged to handle every day,” Schaefer said in the written announcement of his hiring.
Schaefer had dipped back into the commercial art world for Sotheby’s in late January, working as the freelance curator of an exhibition at its Manhattan showroom. “Painting Passion: The Baroque in Italy” was a display of 17 paintings from the 1600s, aimed at selling them on privately-negotiated terms rather than via public bidding at an auction.