A Refined Eye — a glimpse into the world of fine art consulting

By Chris Clay

One of the great things about university is that, for many young people, it’s a time of unparalleled personal growth and an opportunity to explore their hidden passions while enjoying new and often exciting experiences.

When Hughene Acheson was a young woman enrolled in her first year of studies at Queen’s University, she believed a career in medicine was in the cards for her. But, after year one, she realized medicine really wasn’t where her heart lay.

So, she made a switch and decided to take a subject that really interested her — art history. Acheson had wonderful professors who helped make the material come alive and it was a definite change from the somewhat dry academics that can be, rightly or wrongly, associated with the sciences by some.

“University was the time and place to do something I really loved,” explained Acheson about the sudden change in educational direction. “I had a very successful academic career at Queen’s because I studied something I (was passionate about).”

That decision ultimately proved fruitful and helped open up a new world for Acheson, one that has seen her travel the globe as part of her job and work with more than $180 million worth of art.

She eventually graduated from the prestigious post-secondary institution with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology plus an Honours Bachelor of Arts in art history. She went on to earn herself a Master’s from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland with a specialization in Venetian Renaissance Art and found positions at the storied Christie’s auction house in New York City and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection museum in Venice, plus a stint in the Cultural Affairs Department of the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

After several years working abroad, she returned home to Canada as director of client services at Toronto’s Heffel Fine Art auction house.

In 2009, she was ready to strike out on her own and launched Hughene Acheson Fine Art Consulting in Oakville.

Appraising is what Acheson calls the “bread and butter” of her business and she has a varied roster of clients that includes private collectors, insurance companies, banks, estate and divorce lawyers, universities and more.

As an appraiser, her job is to come up with an appropriate value for artworks. And, it’s not just traditional paint on canvas works she deals with but also photography, installations and public art.

“It seems very easy in theory but, in practice, it can be quite complicated,” she notes.

However, that’s not the only aspect of her company. Acheson offers a variety of services for her clients, including art acquisition as well as art advisory, where she employs a professional opinion she’s honed over the years to give advice to private and corporate clients that covers a wide spectrum, including the importance of the work in relation to the artist’s career and even financial considerations of the piece.

When it comes to collection management, she can advise if restoration is needed for a particular piece or, perhaps, if a work or two from the collection should or could be lent to an exhibition, among other services.

Acheson is also a seasoned lecturer and instructor who has been invited to speak at the Art Gallery of Mississauga, George Brown College and the Toronto School of Art. She currently teaches a pair of courses at OCAD University, including Collecting Contemporary Art and Understanding the Canadian Art Market, which sprung out of her original course.

Acheson says, in respect to the latter course, there wasn’t much being offered about this country’s art market and she found that people were extremely interested in learning more about that aspect of the industry.

For more, visit hugheneacheson.com.