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German Sales 1901–1945

The Kunstbibliothek of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the library of Heidelberg University and the Getty Research Institute are putting 9,000 German-language auction catalogues from the first half of the 20th century up online to facilitate research on the art market.

Auction catalogues are an important resource for research into the art market, into the practices and habits of collectors and their evolving tastes, as well as into specific artists and art movements. In addition, auction catalogues from this era are an indispensible tool for provenance research. Until now, no single library has kept a systematic collection of auction catalogues from the German-language art market, with its centres in Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna and Zurich. They have been scattered across various art and museum libraries and archives and it has not been possible to access them from a single, central location. A bibliographical catalogue of the material and the digitisation of this important source material will provide significant support to research into the art market, and in particular, to efforts to clarify historical questions around looted art and expropriations at the hands of the Nazi regime. 

Some 9,000 auction catalogues published between 1901 and 1945 from more than 390 auction houses in Germany, Austria and Switzerland were fully catalogued, digitised and made accessible to scholars in the course of two project phases which ran between 2010 and 2019. This extensive digitisation and cataloguing project was carried out in a cooperation between the Kunstbibliothek of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Heidelberg University library and the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. The first phase of the project was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Volkswagen Foundation, and covered the period from 1930 to 1945. The second phase was likewise funded by the DFG and covered catalogues from 1901–1929. This work makes these indispensible resources available in open access format to provenance and art market research for the first time. All the catalogues are now fully accessible to scholars in full-text, comprising some 650,000 pages.

These auction catalogues were drawn from many different libraries. Approximately 2,600 are taken from the Kunstbibliothek Berlin, and around 2,380 from Heidelberg University. The 4,000 or so remaining catalogues are taken from another 58 libraries and museums. The laborious research work was carried out by staff at the Kunstbibliothek, who also produced the two bibliographies of the catalogues. At the Heidelberg University library, the catalogues were scanned, transformed into files with OCR and made accessible to scholars. The databases produced in Berlin and Heidelberg were then used by the Getty Research Institute to process the individual catalogue entries on paintings, drawings and sculptures, adding them to the Getty Provenance Index. Each data set in the Getty Provenance Index has a permalink to the corresponding digitised media on the Heidelberg website.  

Project management at the Kunstbibliothek: Dr Joachim Brand (Deputy Director, Kunstbibliothek)
Project team at the Kunstbibliothek: Dr Astrid Bähr (research associate first project phase), Dr Britta Bommert (research associate second project phase), Petra Thiele (librarian, Kunstbibliothek), Tina Pankotsch (librarian, Kunstbibliothek)
Cooperation partner: Heidelberg University LibraryGetty Research Institute (Los Angeles)
Project funding: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (both project phases), Volkswagen Foundation (first phase), National Endowment for the Humanities (first phase)
Duration: 2010–2013 first phase (German Sales 1930–1945: Art Works, Art Markets, and Cultural Policy), 2014–2019 second phase (Art – Auctions – Provenance: The German Art Market as Reflected in Auction Catalogues 1901 to 1929)