Clarissa Levi

What’s important to me is personal connection, and history and culture. I am so fortunate I can tie these into my profession.

I spent my childhood in St. Andrews. My dad was a professor, and my mum was a teacher there. From my bedroom window I could see through the castle ruins to the North Sea. I spent a lot of time playing and exploring in the castle grounds and the rocks below. Growing up in such a historic setting instilled in me a love for heritage from a very young age.

I was fascinated by the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther when I was little. It had a huge dark tank with an eel in it like a sea monster. It sparked my imagination and love for museums.

My first degree was in Modern Languages from Oxford University, and I later studied Law in London. I began my career advising on trust and tax law at Charles Russell after training as a solicitor at Allen & Overy. I had a career break while my children were young, and I then joined Sotheby’s for over 11 years, where I was a Senior Director in Tax, Heritage & UK Museums. In 2023, I moved to BHL Art Group where, with George Bailey and Tom Heaven, we have created an independent art business. Being independent frees us to give the best professional advice to clients. It’s hugely satisfying to provide something so needed.

I was drawn to working in heritage planning because it’s a joy dealing with beautiful objects, but also because I find guiding behaviour through tax a fascinating and rewarding way of preserving our heritage. The tax incentives which work together to protect and preserve this country’s heritage are so clever. They explain why many of our country’s historic collections have survived and are now shared with all of us. I wrote about this recently in an article in The Telegraph on Conditional Exemption from tax and the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme. You can argue with aspects of the tax incentives, but they are balanced and imaginative and they have given us a lot. When I was young I travelled round Europe quite a bit with my dad, and cultural tourism showed me we have something here that works. Our historic houses aren’t empty shells, they are full of the collections that tell their history.

I’ve had many memorable moments in my career. It’s not just about the masterpieces. In the art world we’re surrounded by triumphalism about the highest price ever achieved for this or that, but what is interesting to me is finding the right result for an object that might not be worth the most money but will make the biggest difference where it lands. I learned a lesson from one client who had inherited an important historic scientific instrument. When he had to sell it, he refused to ask for more for it than he needed. After achieving that, his priority was to see his family’s historic heirloom on display as part of the national collection, and that’s where it is now, shared with all of us.

It’s wonderful to be able to help when situations take people by surprise, and they need knowledgeable guidance they can trust. A client once came to see me with a small artefact, which to our astonishment turned out to be one of the medieval Lewis Chessmen. The rest of the objects from the hoard found on the Isle of Lewis in 1831 were either in the British Museum or the National Museum of Scotland, but a few pieces were known to be missing – and here was one! It was an amazing discovery, but it immediately posed a raft of challenges and opportunities. We didn’t know at first if it was Treasure Trove and subject to claim by the Crown. It was a pleasure helping the family navigate it all.

I love the community in this area of work. Most people in the heritage sphere are motivated by the same thing. I don’t know any other area where the opposing sides aren’t opposing at all – you can pick up the phone to the authorities and talk about how to make something work, everyone wants it to.

The job is fascinating. I’m always learning something new. I love visiting museums to explore different perspectives, and there’s always a new book to read or a seminar to participate in. What I know, I am happy to share, and I love speaking at events. I’m interested in the questions that arise around what heritage is. It’s not just Old Masters, it is whatever we want it to be and it is constantly evolving. I was thrilled to read that the Victoria and Albert Museum was hiring superfan advisers to explore cultural trends. I love that Taylor Swift is part of our national heritage now.

Outside of work, my favourite thing to do is spend time with my children. They make me laugh like no one else. Cooking is another passion, having inherited a love of food from my parents. I love exploring and plan to do more of this, now my children are older. There is so much to see and discover in this country. I am excited about partnering with Circle Square for connection and expansion – I’d miss this if I hadn’t found it.

If I had to give one piece of advice for collectors, I’d say think long-term. Consider your legacy and the perspective of future generations.

My guiding principle is that we only get one life on this earth and I want to live it the best I can.

Circle Square Member Q&A

What 3 words best describe you? Brave, helpful, kind.

If you could offer your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be? Trust yourself.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? My relationship with my children.

Which person (dead or alive) would you most like to invite to dinner? My parents. They died when I was quite young. I’d love to see them again and for them to meet their grandchildren.

How has age strengthened your advantage? I am just beginning to feel confident. It is a huge gift which I’m very grateful for.

What inspired you to join Circle Square? The community has so much to offer and share. The other week I attended a Circle Square talk by a group of inspiring women which blew me away. I can’t wait for more!

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