Featuring Third Generation Owner & CEO Bill Rau of M.S. Rau, an internationally recognized dealer in rare and important antiques, fine art and jewelry
This month, for the Art & Philanthropy issue, The VOICE’s CFO, Co-Owner and Science Columnist Steve Humphrey caught up with M.S. Rau Third Generation Owner & CEO Bill Rau to learn more about his exquisite collection and what’s in store for the future of one of Steve’s long-time favorite stores. Many of the antiques in his own home have come from M.S. Rau’s extensive and highly curated collection!
Steve: The first time I met you, I walked into your store on Royal Street and was blown away. It was like walking into an amazing museum, but with price tags on the treasures. I remember meeting your dad. I know you are third generation in the business, but what lessons or advice did your dad pass on to you?
Bill: Probably the greatest lesson my father passed on to me was to work hard, treat people with respect and always look for the best. I learned thousands and thousands of other life lessons from him, but those are what really stand out in my mind the most.
Steve: You have recently expanded your store space considerably. Janice and I took a tour of the new portion before it was finished and it looked remarkable. What are you going to put in the new space?
Bill: We are in a historic landmark, thus, we can’t just make our gallery six or seven stories high. So, when two buildings adjacent to ours became available, we had to buy them. They are filled with all kinds of treasures, but the main reason we bought them is to display our paintings. The new space is dedicated almost entirely to our fine art collection, and it looks absolutely wonderful. We’ve also nearly completed renovating our original space, which will open this fall as a jewelry boutique.
Steve: I’ve heard you are expanding more into fine art. What prompted that? You’ve always had fabulous art as well as incredible antiques, but why focus more on art?
Bill: We’ve always had art, but we’ve certainly put more of an emphasis on it the past 25-30 years. Part of it is that art is something I personally love, and part of it is because that’s where the market is going. People are gravitating more and more towards fine art. Art is far easier to place in a home for someone who already has many other objects that take up a lot more room.
Steve: As you are well aware, I am a collector of scientific and philosophical instruments. I imagine you run into many collectors of diverse objects. Do you work with people directly to help them assemble their collections?
Bill: That is actually my greatest joy — helping people grow their collections. We have literally thousands of collectors we have helped over the decades, and when we find them something truly special, we always want to make sure they understand its rarity and importance. It’s something that we take a lot of pride in.
Steve: I was in Les Louvres des Antiquaires in Paris and saw your business card on the desk of one of the merchants there. You must travel a lot looking for treasures. Do you have any stories of finding wonderful things abroad?
Bill: I have so many stories it could fill a book, let alone an article! The reality is that I do travel a lot to find special pieces because one needs to put their eyes on objects to appreciate them. A picture can make something look better or worse than it actually is, but when you see it in person, you really understand its potential.
Steve: I remember seeing a silver writing desk inscribed to Henry Morton Stanley, of Stanley and Livingston fame, from Queen Victoria, I believe. And you once had a cane given to an actress performing in Our American Cousin by John Wilkes Booth. I also remember a desk from Napoleon’s exile on St. Helena. What are some of your favorite historic objects that you have had in your store?
Bill: Winston Churchill was a painter, and he made roughly 1/3 of his paintings before WWII and 2/3 after, but he only painted one during the War. He painted it in a tower in Marrakech where he and FDR had been drinking, talking and singing songs after the Casablanca Conference. He then sent it to FDR as a birthday gift, making it a painting by one of the most important people of the 20th century owned by another.
Another fascinating object we owned were the opera glasses that Abraham Lincoln was holding as he was assassinated, and that was something that sent chills down my spine. But it’s the type of thing that I love because the assassination of Lincoln was one of the most pivotal moments in American history, and to have perhaps the only object from that event that will ever be on the market was really special for us.