28 April 2011

Seligmann and Richard Colnaghi

Richard Colnaghi is undeniably one of the most important dealers in the global art market for museum-quality Old Masters. In going through one of his catalogues, one painting stands out because of its problematic provenance: “La Bonne Nouvelle,” by Marguerite Gérard, painted most likely in or around 1804.

The history of the painting hits a snag when it enters “the Seligmann Collection” in 1937. The issue here is simple: although there are many people with the name Seligmann, there are few who collect such distinguished works. They belong to the extended family of Jacques Seligmann whose antique and Old Master business dominated the Place Vendôme in Paris up until its complete dispossession at the hands of the Germans and their Vichy colleagues. Another branch of the family set up shop in New York, running several art and antique businesses—namely, Georges and Germain Seligmann, and Arnold Seligmann and Rey.

La Bonne Nouvelle
Source: © Marguerite Gérard
The ownership of this painting is written in such a way that one can only deduce a seamless stream of ownership from 1937 to the “anonymous” sale of the painting at Galerie Charpentier in Paris on 10 June 1954, before it entered the Bruni-Tedeschi collection, a name that should resonate since it is similar to that of the family name of the current wife of French President, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Question: Is the Seligmann in the provenance the same as that of the Place Vendôme Seligmann? If so, everything that was owned and managed by that family was forcibly removed by the German authorities between June 1940 and 1941--first off by Goering’s men, secondly, by German police under the control of the German Embassy in Paris, thirdly, by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR).

To be continued…