In 2014 my sister Jenny, and I and my husband James, were in her studio looking at her latest painting, which James had just framed. Then Jenny said that she was thinking of making a will and would like to name us as her Art Executors.
The suggestion came out of the blue and surprised me. Jenny had been in ill health all her life and was not well at the time. I supressed my instant, sisterly, reaction: she was over 70 and hadn’t made a will or thought about this before?
The tactful response might have been perhaps to ask about her health, or express gratitude for the trust implied. My actual response was ‘wouldn’t X, or Y, be better?’ and then ‘Can we think about it for a bit?’ I can see now that both of these actually meant ‘No, sorry, I really don’t want to do this: I don’t know exactly what it means but I feel it is going to be time consuming and difficult and I don’t feel qualified at all to do it.’
But after thinking a bit more James and I said ‘Yes’. Partly because we were her nearest relatives and partly because we both loved her work. And the plan then was to have an exhibition of the latest work – if most had been sold it would make the task a lot easier.
Hindsight tells me that being a near relative is actually not a reason for saying yes to looking after someone’s art estate. Love of the artist and her art does give you the incentive to keep at what becomes a long haul. But it’s a mixed blessing. Emotion gets in the way of efficiency – it took me much longer to get to grips with the task. Loving the art, on the other hand, is essential. The Art Executor spends a lot of time looking at it.
After we had said yes we didn’t think about it for another two years. Our first mistake.