TRANSPARENCY: THE ART DEALER’S SOLID BASIS FOR BUSINESS
In 1995 Florian Eitle-Böhler presented the art business’ stock ledgers, dating from 1880 to 1976 and correspondence from 1931 to 1976, as well as the stock ledgers and correspondence of the branch in Lucerne, to the Bayerisches Wirtschaftsarchiv (Bavarian Business Archive) for research purposes.
The Bayerisches Wirtschaftsarchiv, founded just one year earlier as a common facility for all Chambers of Industry and Commerce in Bavaria, is committed to preserving the archival material of companies, predominantly in the fields of industry and commerce. Dr. Richard Winkler, the deputy head of the archive, is in charge of the Kunsthandlung Julius Böhler’s historical archive that he calls a ‘treasure trove for provenance research’. In the following report, Dr. Richard Winkler explains the huge significance of the archive for research:
“Provenance research into the restitution of artworks disappropriated under the Nazis as a result of persecution has not only been at the focus of attention since the ‘Gurlitt Case’ caused a stir in 2013. In 1998, forty-four states had already signed the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, according to which countries are obliged to make a systematic investigation of their holdings in public cultural institutions and to restitute any items identified as looted art to the legitimate owners or heirs. Since then, museums and libraries in Germany have been researching the origin – or provenance – of objects acquired by them between 1933 and 1945 and, in certain cases, after that date too.
The historical archives of art and antique dealers are invaluable for provenance research as many museums acquired items on the open art market during the Nazi era as well. This rasises the question as to where an art dealer got his objects from and whether the previous owner was persecuted by the Nazi regime – something that always has to be borne in mind in the case of Jewish collectors. An answer to this can often be found in an art dealer’s business documents – should these still exist and be readily assessible.
The Kunsthandlung Julius Böhler in Munich had been one of the heavyweights in the art trade in Germany since the the end of the 19th century. A specialist for sculpture, furniture and paintings by Old Masters from the 14th to the 18th century, the company had extensive business connections to private collectors and public museums. Between 1933 and 1945 Böhler bought and re-sold some 3000 works of art. These transactions are documented in the accounts and business correspondence of the period that have survived, practically in their entirety.
The Kunsthandlung Böhler transferred these records to the Bayerisches Wirtschaftsarchiv in 1995. Since then these have been analysed and are now freely accessible for historical research. Demand for these can be found especially in the field of provenance research. In the course of investigations into the provenance of artworks, few cases of looted art have come to light to date in the documents. One prominent case, however, was the painting by the portraitist Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein (1788–1868), ‘Junge Dame mit Zeichengerät ‘(‘Young Lady with Drawing Instruments’). Painted in 1816 and acquired by Böhler in late 1938 from an art dealer in Vienna, it was sold in 1940 to the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. As later investigations have revealed, the picture was originally in the ownership of three Jewish sisters: Malvine, Jenny and Bertha Rosauer. Following the the Annexation of Austria in March 1938, they were forced to leave their flat in Vienna by the Nazis and part with the painting. Two of the sisters were later deported to Treblinka extermination camp and murdered in 1942. The picture was restituted to their descendants in 2011. That same year it was offered for auction at Sotheby’s in London and bought back by the museum in Dresden for 91,000 euros. Through the restitution and it re-acquisition, the injustice done at an early date has, to some small extent, been rectified.”