Fenella Jeavons: Sponsorship Facilitator

Milking the Philistines — someone’s got to do it

Arty Types

This article is taken from the June 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Just now Fenella is closeted in a private room at the Tate gallery alongside the marketing partner of messrs Tender & Mainprice, chartered accountants. Before them on the coffee table sit reproductions of three of the dreariest watercolours to which Alfred Sisley ever put his name. 

Although her vis-à-vis doesn’t know it, Fenella — brisk, elegantly got-up and in her early fifties — is about to move in for the kill. There is talk of “synergies”, of the procedural techniques (“innovation”, “clear thinking”, “salience”) that bind together a nineteenth-century painter and a gang of bean counters from Gutter Lane, EC2. Mr Heckinbotham, the marketing partner, is powerless to resist. The plan for next year’s exhibition — Sisley: Impressionist Titan — is hatched on the spot.

This is not quite the most embarrassing moment of Fenella’s long and distinguished career. No indeed, that came five years ago on the day she was bidden to escort the corporate communications partner of an investment bank around the Royal Academy shortly after that gentleman’s colleagues had agreed to underwrite Van Gogh: Tragedy and Triumph. “And this,” she brightly remarked, “is where they stage the annual summer exhibition.” “Oh yes?” her companion replied, a bit less brightly, “What’s that?” 

Still, it was all in a day’s work, and the commission remitted to Jeavons & Associates a fortnight before the event began was enough to pay Fenella’s eldest son’s fees at Harrow for the next three terms.

How did she get into the business of milking the Philistines? Naturally, it all began at the Courtauld, where Fenella — a greenery-yallery girl with a passion for Aubrey Beardsley — studied for several years, and continued in the marketing department of Ernst & Young, who, to give them credit, were one of the first city firms to see the advantages of high-end sponsorship of the arts. 

From there it was but a short step to the foundation of Jeavons & Associates (half-a-dozen employees, premises in Jermyn Street) and the staging of their first major exhibition: Klimt: Dreamhouse and Nightmare — backed by a willing hedge fund and opened by the Prince of Wales — at the V&A.

All that was a decade-and-a-half ago. In its long and lucrative wake, Fenella has transformed herself into the leading light of what is now a rather crowded profession. There are occasional complaints about Jeavons & Associates’ snootiness — and indeed Fenella once declined to entertain the somewhat plebian managing director of an upstart options trading firm on the grounds that she “really couldn’t be seen dealing with people like that” — and the odd protest about their stratospherically high fees. 

On these occasions Fenella consoles herself with the quote from an old Simon Raven novel that hangs above her desk: “You must not make the businessman’s usual and vulgar mistake of expecting cultural services to come cheap.”

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