Yvonne Monestier, Waddington’s New Director of Fine Art & Strategic Partnerships
A powerhouse in the Toronto art scene, Monestier joined Waddington’s just in time for our November 2019 Canadian Fine Art auction. It’s been a whirlwind since then.
Prior to joining Waddington’s, Monestier served as Curator of Public Art at the City of Mississauga, as well as provided curatorial and consulting services for private and public entities in New York City and Toronto. Yvonne brings experience and boundless energy to Waddington’s—we’re excited to watch her take the Fine Art department in exciting new directions.
Long overdue, we wanted to sit down with Yvonne and ask a few questions about her career, the art that inspires her, and her favourite restaurants. We hope you’ll enjoy (virtually) sitting down with her as much as we did!
How did you end up working in the arts? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do?
I always felt art was my calling, but initially I thought that I was going to go into the field of art law. I was pre-law at the University of Toronto and in my final year I started working for a local law firm doing some paralegal work. During this time, I was introduced to a leading arts and copyright lawyer in Toronto who eventually came to be a mentor for me. Ironically, he convinced me not to go to law school and introduced me to the Sotheby’s Institute of Art. That was a real turning point for me and one of the main reasons why I decided to pursue a graduate degree in Art Business in New York. To this day I regularly thank my mentor for convincing me to listen to my heart. I feel this is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
What’s your first memory of art? Did you grow up in an artistic household?
I have very fond and vivid memories of my beloved grandmother, a Sunday painter herself, teaching me to draw and paint from a very early age. This was my first introduction to appreciating the process behind the art. My parents took me to art galleries and museums since before I could walk, and I certainly feel that art is both my first love and ultimate happy place. I was born in Poland and lived there for most of my early childhood, so I was surrounded by an incredible amount of history and art. My fondest childhood memory is our weekly visits to the National Museum in Krakow to see Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine.” Every chance I get to go back to Poland, I always make a point to stop in and say hello to the Lady. I highly recommend this jewel of a museum, which houses the priceless Czartoryski family art collection – one of Poland’s national treasures.
Is there something you are looking forward to accomplishing at Waddington’s?
Yes! So much! Waddington’s has become somewhat of an ‘ideas incubator’. The bright minds that I am fortunate to work with daily have been instrumental in providing excellent feedback, research and follow-through on a number of special projects. They are the ‘secret ingredient’ of the company, not to mention its heart and soul. Although we are all working remotely these days as a result of the pandemic, there is a growing amount of ingenuity taking place behind the scenes. We continue to monitor the market on a daily basis and forecast trends for the art industry going forward. I am pleased to announce that we are currently working on a number of exciting projects that leverage technology to be launched in the coming months. Stay tuned!
Did you have a particular mentor who showed you the ropes or who made an impression? Is there someone who you go to for advice?
I have had many mentors throughout my career, but honestly, no one quite compares to my Mom. Not only is she an impressive entrepreneur in her own right, but she is also a class act through and through. She has always given me honest—often unsolicited—advice, while always keeping my best interests in mind. I trust her more than anyone in this world.
If you could own any piece sold by Waddington’s over the years, what would it be?
Waddington’s is an impressive treasure trove and I consider it a great privilege to work amongst all of the important consignments that our valued clients have entrusted us with. As far as building a collection, there are three distinct works that come to mind.
1. This past fall we offered an incredibly eloquent and nuanced painting by William Perehudoff in our Canadian Fine Art auction. I still think about it to this day and I was very happy to see it go to a good home. This particular work was a prime example of the Colour Field Movement and illustrates why Perehudoff is considered as one of Canada’s quintessential modernist painters. Every time I looked at it I imagined the artist’s thought process and how the luminous hues must have in part been derived from his childhood experiences of living in the prairies. It really spoke to me.
2. Susan Robertson, our Senior International Art Specialist, recently shared with me that Waddington’s had sold a beautiful still life lithograph by David Hockney. Seeing this work in a JPEG format took my breath away, so I can only imagine what it would be like to see it in person, let alone own it! At a time when we’re all facing our own internal struggles and trying to make sense of what is going on around us, Hockney’s work is more relevant than ever. It is quiet and pensive and invites us to seek nature for some necessary solace and stress relief. I’m really enjoying Hockney’s recent iPad drawings and paintings of spring awakening while the artist remains in isolation in his home in Normandy, France.
3. For the past several months, I have had the distinct pleasure of sharing my office with a powerful print by Kinngait artist Kenojoak Ashevak titled “A Vision of Animals”. I admire Kenojuak’s quality of linework which helps to translate the spirit of the Arctic landscape into art. This seminal work will be offered in our next major auction of Inuit Art and I already know that I will miss it greatly.
Tell us what you’re looking forward to learning in the next year. What do you most enjoy about your role at Waddington’s?
A big part of my role at Waddington’s is being an ambassador for the company and forming strong partnerships to uphold the company’s impressive 170 year old legacy. I most enjoy and miss the human interaction with prospective partners, clients and my colleagues. I have been able to continue—and in some case grow—this aspect of the role while we’re all working in isolation, but nothing quite compares to being in the same physical space with my peers. I’m looking forward to returning to our office (hopefully soon!) so that I can reunite with my colleagues and continue to learn from their vast experience and multitude of stories while huddled around the proverbial water cooler.
If you could sit down with one person in the art world, who would it be?
The passionate collector, patron of the arts and ‘hostess with the mostest’, Isabella Stewart Gardner. Gardner founded the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, amongst her many accomplishments. I admire her for having lived life to the fullest and hear steadfast refusal to imitate anyone. She was truly ahead of her time.
What is the best piece of advice that you have received?
Stay humble – remember where you came from and that there’s always someone better than you at something.
Best advice you could give to someone just starting out?
Listen and soak up all you can like a sponge. There is no shame in asking the question and don’t get discouraged if you come across those that refuse to provide you with the answers. Keep going and forge your own path! It is guaranteed that you will make mistakes along the way, but you will also learn from them: it’s what you choose to do with that knowledge that counts.
Do you have a favourite artist or artwork? Maybe something that changed the way you see art or was a major influence for you?
That’s a tough one – I can think of countless works that have impacted my life in different ways at different times so it may be nearly impossible to choose just one. I will say that I will never tire of seeing John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Madame Amélie Gautreau, better known as “Madame X,” owned by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I wrote my thesis on Sargent and came to know this painting quite well; I am always overwhelmed with emotion when I see it. It is a true masterpiece, down to every last meticulously painted detail.
If you had to save only one artwork that you own, what would it be?
If I HAD to choose, I would save Moon Line Sun by Vancouver-based artist Elizabeth McIntosh. It hangs in my bedroom and is the first thing I see when I open my eyes in the morning. McIntosh’s playful resistance to any glimpse of hard edges or geometric abstraction makes me smile every time. I was really looking forward to seeing the exhibition Elizabeth McIntosh: Show Up at Oakville Galleries (Oakville, Ontario), which has been postponed. But it gives me something to look forward to post-pandemic!
Last piece of art you bought?
I just purchased two prints directly from celebrated Toronto artist Alex McLeod who is generously donating 100% of the proceeds to independent artists who have been impacted by COVID-19. I am so inspired by McLeod and others in the community working to support those in need and I encourage you to visit his website and provide support if you can: alxclub.
Best exhibition you’ve ever seen?
One local exhibition that still gives me goosebumps when I think about it is the 2016 Luminato Festival which transformed Toronto’s Hearn Generating Station (a 400,000-square-foot facility that was decommissioned in 1983) into a giant work of public art. It pushed the boundaries in ways that Toronto had never seen before and created an electrifying energy throughout the contemporary art world.
Favourite places to eat?
Apart from ducking into museums and galleries whenever I get the chance to, I also enjoy exploring a city’s food culture. The last few weeks I have been dipping into my taste bud memory bank and reminiscing about some of my favourite restaurants in three of my favourite cities.
A New York trip always includes a visit to La Esquina in the Nolita district. It is a perfect mix of tasty Mexican cuisine and secret foodie culture. The hidden entrance is quintessential NYC and I can’t wait to go back!
Paris is literally a foodie mecca and Derriere in the heart of the Marais district is one such example. The décor is of a French baroque house equipped with a huge Norman closet on the first level which, fittingly, hides an eclectic smoking room with a ping-pong table. Cheeky and fun!
Locally, Quetzal on Toronto’s College Street is pretty amazing – my husband and I are in love with contemporary Mexican culture and this restaurant has it all. The interior design by local architecture firm Partisans is satisfyingly perfect in every way and a total feast for the eyes.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I try to keep up with my very active two and half year old. I wish I had her energy!
Describe yourself in three words.
- Optimistic…the glass is always half-full!
- Ambitious…sometimes to a fault.