A Guide to Provenance Research at the Archives of American Art

Methodologies and Resources: Jacques Seligmann & Co. Gallery Records, 1904-1978, bulk 1913-1974

Jacques Seligmann & Co. Gallery Records, 1904–1978, bulk 1913–1974

Without a doubt, one of the Archives’ richest resources for art provenance research are the extensive gallery records (203 linear feet) of the Jacques Seligmann & Co., which were fully digitized in 2010 with funding provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art. The Seligmann gallery records can provide us with many examples of provenance reseach methodologies.

Jacques Seligmann & Co., Inc., established in Paris in 1880, with a second location opening in New York in 1904, was one of the top dealers in antiquities and decorative arts and one of the first galleries to create a market for contemporary European art. The company's clients included the prominent European art collectors Baron Edmond de Rothschild of France, the Stroganoff family of Russia, Sir Philip Sassoon of England, and American collectors Benjamin Altman, William Randolph Hearst, J. P. Morgan, Henry Walters, and Joseph Widener. The art that passed through Seligmann often ended up in the collections of major American and European museums through the donations of the wealthy benefactors who purchased them from the company. For decades Jacques Seligmann & Co., Inc., placed significant works of art in important private and public collections in Europe and the U.S.

The Jacques Seligmann gallery records provide users with a unique opportunity for extensive mining of documentary evidence. The records are comprehensive, complete, complex, and multi-layered. Users can trace and compare references to sales and purchases across multiple types of documentation, such as correspondence and collectors’ files, sales receipts, ledgers, consular invoices, inventory lists, exhibition records, inter-office memoranda, and auction records. Users can trace provenance paths with multiple intersections by searching for the names of collectors, dealers, or major clients with whom a work of art passed hands, and by geographic locations of sales, inventory/stock numbers, artists’ names, dates of sales, consignment arrangements, and exhibition histories. However, the qualities that make the collection such a rich resource also make it challenging to use. Provenance paths can be obscured by the sheer volume of materials and the types of information found within. Users will very quickly lose their way without the finding aid available online.

Nearly 100 linear feet of correspondence are arranged primarily by name and document sales, purchases, liquidations, transactions, and relationships with nearly every major collector, dealer, auction house, and gallery in both the U.S. and Europe between 1913 and 1978.

A page from the 'Old Collectors of Interest' notebook (Box 245, Folder 7, #26) in the collectors files listing some of the artwork owned by Samuel H. Kress, including information about acquisition and exhibitions.
A page from the “Old Collectors of Interest” notebook (Box 245, Folder 7, #26) in the collectors files listing some of the artwork owned by Samuel H. Kress, including information about acquisition and exhibitions.

For example, the gallery correspondence contains some of the only known documentation about the resolution of the Estate of Alfred Flechtheim, in papers concerning a painting by Picasso owned in shares between Seligmann, Flechtheim, and another dealer. Correspondence between Seligmann and the Estate over some ten years provides important insight into the complexity of the Estate resolution and the thoroughness with which the Estate attorneys pursued inheritance and ownership issues concerning this German émigré dealer who had fled Nazi Germany. The earlier ownership history of the same Picasso is referenced in correspondence between Flechtheim, Alfred Barr, and J. B. Neumann in the J. B. Neumann Papers at AAA and is a good example of the inter-connectedness of the Archives’ holdings.

Thirty-five linear feet of collectors’ files provide documentation about the collections of the most important art collectors and existing or potential clients across America and Europe. For example, the notebook “Old Collectors of Interest,” lists prominent collectors and the works of art they purchased, by name of artist, title of the work, from whom they acquired the work, medium, date, and dimensions.

Financial and stock records are extraordinarily rich with information about sales, inventory, and purchases. For example the financial records of the Seligmann gallery include the consular invoices of the American Consulate General in Paris and Brussels that declare ownership in relation to tariffs and exporting works of art. These official government documents detail works of art exported to the United States (or other countries) by Jacques Seligmann & Co., between 1920 and 1953. Many of the forms provide valuable provenance information, such as physical description (often in great detail), age, from whom acquired, date of acquisition, assessed market value, and shipping dates and means of shipping.

A consular invoice in series 7.4 of the financial records (Box 299, F4, #42) dated June 1, 1948 declaring Picasso's Les Fugitifs.
A consular invoice in series 7.4 of the financial records (Box 299, F4, #42) dated June 1, 1948 declaring Picasso’s Les Fugitifs.
 

There are numerous types of account books, sales ledgers, combined ledgers, client transaction ledgers, daily transaction journals, loose and bound invoices, receipts, consignment invoices, etc., all of which record and cross reference sales, purchases, provenance, prices, clients, and shared commission sales with other dealers.

For example, the “price quote notebooks” found among the financial records contain Germain Seligman's records of "sales calls," that include commentary and notes about clients and their collecting interests. Many of the invoice books, account books and ledgers provide information about individual sales to clients as well as gallery purchases. Most of the sales ledgers can be accessed by transaction date or name of client and cross-referenced with one another, and most transactions also note stock inventory numbers. A group of “purchase receipts” are particularly useful and provide a fairly complete set of information about the firm's purchases, such as the 1937 acquisition of Madame Jacques Doucet's collection of Picassos, which included Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. The purchase receipts also document complex joint ownerships and sales of artwork on consignment from other galleries—relationships often not easily discovered in other types of documentation.

Most of the financial records can be further cross referenced and validated with the correspondence files.

A letter dated May 24, 1947 from Seligmann to Curt Valentin of Buckholz Gallery documenting a joint purchase and ownership of two Juan Gris paintings. This letter is found among the
A letter dated May 24, 1947 from Seligmann to Curt Valentin of Buckholz Gallery documenting a joint purchase and ownership of two Juan Gris paintings. This letter is found among the “purchase receipts” (Box 290, Folder 9, #8) in the financial records and contains some interesting wording, “insofar as our books are concerned amounts to $3,000.00...”
 

Jacques Seligmann, Inc. was a large gallery and had several subsidiaries throughout the firm’s history, including the Gersel Corporation, Modern Paintings, Inc., and de Hauke and Co. Some of these corporations were buying and selling artwork immediately following the war, and provenance researchers should not overlook the sales and purchase records of the transactions of any subsidiary. In some cases, those records may be arranged separately from the parent gallery, and other times the records will be intertwined.

This receipt is dated 1946 and is found among the financial records (Box 421, Folder 6, #6) of the subsidiary Gersel Corporation clearly acquiring artwork from a dealer in Paris on behalf of Jacques Seligmann & Co. The numbers appear to be inventory numbers which might possibly be found in one of the many numbered inventory lists found within the records.
This receipt is dated 1946 and is found among the financial records (Box 421, Folder 6, #6) of the subsidiary Gersel Corporation clearly acquiring artwork from a dealer in Paris on behalf of Jacques Seligmann & Co. The numbers appear to be inventory numbers which might possibly be found in one of the many numbered inventory lists found within the records.
 

The stock and inventory records of any gallery will be the most direct path to tracking the provenance of artwork and the Seligmann records contain numerous sets of stock records, including bound and loose stock and inventory catalogs, lists, and a photographic negative file of inventory. Inventory catalogs are arranged by location, inventory number, genre, and ownership. The finding aid reveals that some of the catalogs have overlapping information, as well as missing inventory numbers. Users can check the inventory numbers against other records in other series because most of the gallery records note the inventory numbers, including much of the correspondence. Users should also check the inventory lists of any of the subsidiary companies and again look for intersections and cross references with the financial records of both the subsidiary and parent company.

Stock inventory list (page four) of Modern Paintings, Inc. (a subsidiary company of Jacques Seligmann & Co.), 1931. Jacques Seligmann & Co. gallery records, Archives of American Art.
Stock inventory list (page four) of Modern Paintings, Inc. (a subsidiary company of Jacques Seligmann & Co.), 1931. Jacques Seligmann & Co. gallery records, Archives of American Art.
 
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