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SOAS students’ language skills and art history knowledge secure placement at famous auctioneers

14 November 2013

SOAS, University of London graduate, Shing-Yi Tan, and current student Francesca Rose Leiper, secured internships with Lyon & Turnbull to work on the auctioneers high profile events during Asian Art in London.

Lyon & Turnbull, established in Edinburgh in 1826, is Scotland's oldest firm of auctioneers. The internship placement required the students to work alongside the marketing department during Asian Art in London, a ten-day celebration of the finest Asian artworks running from 31 October until 9 November 2013. Specifically, the students assisted with preparations for a major auction on 11 December.

Lyon & Turnbull interns

L-R: Shing-Yi Tan and Francesca Rose Leiper


Shing-Yi, BA History of Art and Archaeology graduate, and Francesca, BA History of Art and Chinese Studies, were required to put their language skills and art history knowledge put into practice. Tasks included writing copy for the website department page, researching relevant news stories about the Asian Art Market for Twitter and other social media platforms, administrative assistance for events as well as translation tasks.

Francesca said: “In my advanced Chinese language course this year we have been looking at Chinese media websites both in China and abroad, and how they differ in terms of the information provided, target audiences and how they are presented aesthetically. I have applied this knowledge directly when assessing how other UK auction houses cater for Chinese customers, and from this offered my suggestion as to how Lyon & Turnbull can develop this aspect of their website and the company.

“At times I have even been able to apply knowledge learnt in a lecture on the same day at the internship, such as when I was asked to look at an inscription on a ceramic bowl and decipher whether or not it was real, a small difference revealed in the Chinese characters on the base.

Shing-Yi added: “In terms of academic knowledge, I've always been interested in East Asia so I chose to study those courses during my degree which has helped hugely with my judgement and analysing of objects that are in the collection. Also just the process of completing a degree has helped immensely - learning how to organise my time to meet multiple deadlines, and taking pride in my work to finish it to the highest quality.

When asked what the best thing about the internship was, Francesca said: “For me, the opportunity to put my translation skills into practice, whether looking at Chinese directly on antiques, or using Chinese to reach out to customers through the company’s Weibo account. I am also very fortunate to be able to handle a variety of exciting and sometimes very valuable Asian antiques which come into the office, and to then discuss them with the head of the Asian department.

Shing-Yi added: “Meeting new people in the arts industry and gaining contacts. I have definitely learnt a lot about working in this sector given the varied tasks set to me, but it's always an eye-opener to have the opportunity to talk to people who have so much experience in this industry!”

Lyon & Turnbull Marketing Consultant Grace Browne said: “We approached SOAS for the programme as we felt it was the ideal institution to find candidates with an enthusiasm for, and knowledge base in, the subject matter. We were delighted to meet students that were actively interested in Asian art; also in Francesca's case, with a language ability in this area. Looking ahead to our June sale in 2014, we will run another internship next year and will contact SOAS again in due course.”