#NotablePeople: Emilia Ianeva, Owner of Berenson Fine Art

While battling breast cancer, Emilia Ianeva fell in love with her surgeon’s watercolour paintings.

Now, she is putting on her second solo exhibit of Dr. John Semple’s work at Berenson Fine Art, the gallery she owns in uptown Toronto. We caught up with Emilia to learn how art has been a healing force throughout her life, plus how she met her husband – renowned painter Marco Sassone – by accidentally trying to sell him his own painting. 

How did you first discover your love of art?

Believing that human inclinations manifest early in someone’s life, I believe my own love for art was apparent from a very young age. Even though the rest of my family are all doctors and it was expected of me to become one, my artistic side was carefully encouraged by my mother, a professor of classic Russian literature. 

During my university years, I became an author and published three books on philosophy. I took a second master’s degree in art history and wrote my Ph.D. on the work of Pablo Picasso. After that, it was clear that I was going to dedicate my life to art.

Photo: Steve Blackburn

Tell us more about your journey to becoming a gallery owner.

I started out working in several art galleries across Europe and when I moved to San Francisco I landed a position at the Pasquale Iannetti gallery as an assistant director. 

This position was definitely a turning point for me in my career. The artists we represented included Chagall, Matisse, Miro, Picasso, Pissarro, and Degas, to name just a few in the category of Modern Art.

Was there one person or mentor who helped you grow in the art industry?

Pasquale Iannetti was my mentor who assisted me in my journey. I learned a lot from his deep knowledge of original prints and other unique works of art from the 16th century to the present.

We love a meet-cute! How did you meet the love of your life, renowned Italian painter Marco Sassone?

Photo: Steve Blackburn

Pasquale was also responsible for the introduction to my husband! Marco Sassone was one of the artists we represented but had never met. He came to the opening night of the Francis Bacon exhibition that I had curated. He was observing a painting by Sassone in our viewing room and I actually approached him and tried to sell him his own painting!

Well, a few minutes later Pasquale introduced me to Marco and I felt somewhat embarrassed. Two years later we got married in front of the same painting at our home in Toronto.

You’re a proud breast cancer survivor. What role did art play in your healing journey?

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” – Pablo Picasso. 

While working with your surgeon, Dr. John L. Semple, you became infatuated with his watercolour paintings. Tell us about the process of putting on his first solo exhibit! 

As soon as I saw Dr. Semple’s paintings displayed in his office, I felt a special connection towards his watercolours that are filled with spontaneity and lightness of execution. In an instant, I formulated in my mind the possibility of an exhibition of his work at my gallery. I could already visualize the pieces framed and installed at Berenson Fine Art long before I proposed the idea to Dr. Semple.

How can people create their own healing art collections, regardless of space, size or budget?

When we view an artwork and entertain the wish of having it, that in itself is already a healing sensation. Then imagine seeing this artwork in your home on a daily basis. It would fulfill your soul time and time again. 

I always suggest to visitors that a collection can be initiated with even a small budget. The starting point is taking the time to find a work that reflects your sensibilities.

How has COVID impacted the process of putting on your second solo exhibit for Dr. Semple, which runs until October 21st?

COVID-19 has impacted our lives to the point that we have now somewhat adjusted to its restrictions and are pivoting accordingly to the new “normal”. At the same time – in my case – the demand for a second show could not be ignored, so we made the decision to move forward by implementing all the safety measures to do this safely. 

The exhibition “A Sense Of Place” actually characterizes the complex emotional relationship between people and their spatial settings, something that COVID-19 has redefined for everyone. The funds raised from the exhibit will help the next wave of surgeon scientists to pursue world-class, life-altering scholarly work. So it was important for Dr. Semple and I to hold the exhibition.

What advice would you give to someone who dreams of a career in art?

The first thing should be the realization that you cannot live without art. And, if this madness is real, you must persevere on your own without listening to any discouraging sources. The journey may present numerous obstacles, but it is a beautiful journey with mesmerizing moments and memories to be made along the way. 

Want to catch an inside look at the latest artwork displayed in Berenson Fine Art? Follow along on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn or visit their website at www.berensonart.com. As for Emilia herself, she’s “always at the end of the phone or on the other side of an email.”