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Jacques Seligmann & Co. records, 1904-1978, bulk 1913-1974

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Patricia C. Craig, Barbara D. Aikens, Stephanie L. Ashley, Rosa M. Fernandez
Scope and Contents note
The Jacques Seligmann & Co., Inc., records measure approximately 203.1 linear feet and date from between 1904 and 1978, with bulk dates of 1913-1974. The records include extensive correspondence files, reference material on American and European collectors and their collections, inventory and stock records, financial records, exhibition files, auction files, and the records of subsidiary companies, including de Hauke & Co., Inc., and Modern Paintings, Inc.
Historians and researchers will find the collection an invaluable resource in tracing the provenance of particular works of art. Although in the early 1940s many records in the Paris office were destroyed by Seligmann staff to keep them from falling into the hands of the occupying German military forces, many records survive, as much of the firm's business had previously come to center in the New York office. In all, the remaining records provide a comprehensive view of the activities and transactions of collectors and art dealers in the years leading up to and following World War II.
Correspondence (Series 1) is the largest series of the collection (80 linear feet) and is comprised of extensive correspondence files, primarily between Germain Seligman and his New York office staff with domestic and foreign private clients, collectors, dealers, individuals representing public museums and collections, and international scholars. The New York Office Correspondence (Series 1.1) concerns a wide variety of topics, including routine business matters, but focuses primarily on potential and realized sales and purchases and provenance documentation. Also found is detailed information on financial transactions, commissions, stock inventory, and the travel of Germain Seligman and other staff. Paris Office Correspondence (Series 1.2) is separated into a small subseries and contains correspondence written primarily by Jacques Seligmann from Paris. The subseries General Correspondence (Series 1.3) is the largest subsection of the Correspondence series and contains letters written to and received from clients and other business associates concerning business transactions and inquiries. The subseries Museum Correspondence (Series 1.4) contains letters between the firm and art institutions and museums. The subseries Germain Seligman's Correspondence (Series 1.5), contains not only personal letters but a wealth of information concerning the affairs of the firm. Much personal correspondence was marked "private."
Also of note in the Correspondence series are the Legal Correspondence Files (Series 1.6) and the Inter-Office Correspondence (Series 1.9) and Inter-Office Memoranda (Series 1.13). The Legal Correspondence Files subseries houses correspondence with both U.S. and Paris attorneys and concerns legal affairs and specific lawsuits. Of particular interest are Germain Seligman's attempts to recover Seligmann family and Paris gallery artwork and other assets stolen or confiscated by the Germans in World War II. This small subseries also contains limited information on the stock and inventory holdings of several of the firm's and Germain Seligman's subsidiary corporations, family legal affairs and lawsuits, and other related legal matters. The subseries Inter-Office Correspondence and Inter-Office Memoranda (called fiches by Seligmann staff) include memos between Germain Seligman and his staff about clients, collectors, sales, acquisitions, and other matters. These offer interesting commentary clearly intended to be read by staff only.
Also prominent is Collectors Files (Series 2), which contains numerous reference files documenting the collections of existing and potential clients with whom Seligmann & Co. maintained contacts. The files are arranged by either individual name or institution and reflect the wide scope of collector references maintained by the firm throughout its operating years. The files contain a variety of reference materials, such as photographs, provenance notes, and sales, purchase, and inventory information in cases where the collector purchased from the firm or the firm purchased from the collector. Researchers will find that many of the private and public names that appear in General Correspondence (Series 1.3) appear in the Collectors Files as well. Also found in this series are specific files relating to the Duc d'Arenberg Collection, the Clarence H. Mackay Collection, the Mortimer L. Schiff Collection, and the Prince of Liechtenstein Collection. The firm either handled substantial estate sales for these collections or purchased and sold important pieces from these collections.
Auction Files (Series 3) and Exhibition files (Series 4) trace the sales and exhibition activities undertaken by Jacques Seligmann & Co., Inc. In the Auction files, researchers will find documentation of auctions of individual works of art owned by the firm and handled by Christie's, Parke-Bernet, and other auction houses. Of particular interest is the 1948-1949 Parke-Bernet auction of the C. S. Wadsworth Trust, a "dummy" trust set up by the firm to dispose of a portion of its unsold inventory. The Exhibition Files house a variety of documentation, such as catalogs and correspondence, concerning the firm's active exhibition history. Many of the exhibitions featured works of art recently acquired by the firm, such as the 1937 exhibition, Twenty Years in the Evolution of Picasso, which included a number of Picassos the firm acquired from Madame Jacques Doucet that year.
Reference Files (Series 5) includes a card catalog to books and catalogs in the library maintained by Jacques Seligmann & Co., Inc., and a photograph reference index of works of art. Inventory and Stock Files (Series 6) tracks the firm's inventory through a series of stock books and supporting documentation that include sales and provenance information.
Financial Files and Shipping Records (Series 7) consists primarily of records of the New York office, but some Paris office documents can be found scattered throughout. Found in this series is a wide variety of financial records including purchase receipt files, credit notes, invoices, consignment invoices and books, invoices, consular invoices, sales and purchase account books, ledgers, and tax records. The records appear to be quite complete and date from 1910 to 1977. Of particular interest are the purchase receipts and credit notes and memoranda that contain detailed documentation on acquisitions and sales. The consignment invoices provide information about works of art sold on behalf of other galleries and dealers, as well as which galleries and dealers were handling works of art for Jacques Seligmann & Co., Inc. Although quite large and complex, the financial records offer a comprehensive overview of the firm's business and financial transactions.
The records of subsidiary companies that were part of Jacques Seligmann & Co., Inc., such as Contemporary American Department, de Hauke & Co., Inc., Modern Paintings, Inc., and Gersel Corp. are arranged in their own series. In 1935, the firm established the Contemporary American Department to represent young American artists. Under the direction of Theresa D. Parker, a longtime gallery employee, the department initiated an exhibition and loan program. Contemporary American Department (Series 8) includes mostly correspondence files and exhibition files.
The largest subsidiary company to operate under Jacques Seligmann & Co., Inc., was de Hauke & Co., Inc. De Hauke & Co., Inc., Records (Series 9) dates from 1925 through 1949 and contains domestic and foreign correspondence with clients, collectors, and dealers; inter-office correspondence and memoranda with Jacques Seligmann & Co., Inc.; administrative and legal files; and financial records. Modern Paintings, Inc., records (Series 10) contains the legal and financial files of this subsidiary company, which was established in 1930 to incorporate most of the stock of the liquidated de Hauke & Co., Inc. Gersel Corp. Records (Series 11) contains a small amount of material from this company.
Researchers should note that a scattering of records from most of the subsidiary companies may also be found throughout additional series, particularly Inventory and Stock Files (Series 6) and Financial Files and Shipping Records (Series 7). Records for the firms Tessa Corp. and Georges Haardt & Co., which were also owned by Germain Seligman, are not part of the Jacques Seligmann & Co., Inc., Records, although scattered references to these two firms may be encountered throughout the collection.
German Seligman's Personal papers (Series 12) includes scattered family and biographical materials, his research and writings files, and documentation of his personal art collection. Found in Family and Biographical Material (Series 12.1) are photographs of family members, including Jacques Seligmann, and of the Paris gallery. Also found is a limited amount of correspondence concerning Germain Seligman's residency status and his desire to obtain an army commission during World War II. Germain Seligman's research and writing files are found in this series and include material for his books: Roger de La Fresnaye, with a Catalogue Raisonné (1969); Merchants of Art, 1880-1960: Eighty Years of Professional Collecting (1961); The Drawings of Georges Seurat (1947); and Oh! Fickle Taste; or, Objectivity in Art (1952). Documentation of Germain Seligman's private art collection is arranged in this series and includes provenance and research files and correspondence concerning his art collection.
Overall, the historical records of Jacques Seligmann & Co., Inc., offer researchers a comprehensive and detailed resource for studying one of the most active dealers in decorative arts, Renaissance, and European contemporary art. The records clearly document the firm's numerous acquisitions and sales of important works of art to well-known European and American collectors and museums as well as Germain Seligman's extensive client contacts and references. The collection offers an insightful, intriguing, and often fascinating view into the complex field of art sales, trading, and acquisition during the first half of the twentieth century, when many major collections in the United States were formed.
Researchers interested in tracing the provenance of individual works of art should carefully check each series of the collection for information to obtain a complete history for any work. Jacques Seligmann & Co., Inc., staff set up many different files to cross-reference works of art from various angles, such as artist or creator; collector or collection; most recent owner or repository location; stock inventory number, if owned by Seligmann & Co.; and photographic reference files. The task is made somewhat more difficult by the number of commission sales and joint ownership of works of art, often documented solely in the Inventory and Stock Files (Series 6) or the Financial Files and Shipping Records (Series 7). Only by tracing a name or date through the various series can one find all of the information relating to a particular work of art and its provenance.
The records of the Paris and New York art dealer Jacques Seligmann & Co., Inc., were donated to the Archives of American Art in 1978 by Mrs. Ethlyne Seligman, widow of Germain Seligman. A small addition of 19 linear feet was donated in 1994.
Processing of the collection was funded by the Getty Grant Program; digitization of the collection was funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art. Glass plate negatives in this collection were digitized in 2019 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Women's Committee.
Processing Information
The staff of the Archives of American Art partially processed the collection to a preliminary level in the late 1970s. The collection was fully processed and the finding aid created by a team of professional archivists and archives technicians, including Barbara D. Aikens, Stephanie L. Ashley, Wendy Bruton, Patricia K. Craig, and Rosa Fernandez, between 1998 and 2001, with funding from the Getty Foundation.
Series 1: Correspondence and Series 2: Collectors Files were digitized in 2010 with funding provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. The bulk of the remainder of the collection was digitized in 2010 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Glass plate negatives were re-housed in 2015 with a grant provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.