A COLLECTOR'S LEGACY:
Jakob Goldschmidt and the Rise of the Impressionist Art Market
Jakob Goldschmidt (1882-1955) was a leading figure in international banking and finance, first in Germany between the two World Wars, and thereafter in America, where he arrived in 1936 and later became a citizen. He collected paintings and decorative arts in many areas, including Impressionist paintings, which were not fashionable during the 1920s and 1930s. It was, however, the sale of seven important Impressionist paintings from his estate in 1958 that has become a landmark event, having created the post-war market for Impressionist and Modern art as we know it today.
Mr. Goldschmidt became a partner in a banking company in 1910, and in the wake of the German defeat in the First World War, he helped found the International Bank of Amsterdam to provide funds for Germany's recovery. He became managing director of the National Bank für Deutschland in 1918, which later merged with three other houses to become the Darmstadter und National Bank. During this time, Mr. Goldschmidt was an ecomonic advisor and trusted friend to the chancellors of the Weimar Republic.
Jakob Goldschmidt supported many Jewish ventures, and helped to underwrite the Encyclopedia Judaica. He was a frequent target of the Nazi party's anti-Semitic propaganda as early as 1927. Joseph Goebbels printed a poster in which Hitler denounced him as "public enemy no. 1." Mr. Goldschmidt fled Germany to Switzerland in 1933, leaving by night and taking whatever he and his son Erwin could fit into their car. While friendly contacts in Germany were still able to remove some other works of value, he left behind numerous fine paintings and decorative objects, which the Nazi Ministry of Finance seized and sold at auction in 1941 to benefit the Hitler Youth organization. Mr. Goldschmidt's Berlin mansion became the embassy of Mussolini's fascist Italian government.
After living in Switzerland and London for the next three years, Jakob Goldschmidt moved to New York, where he resumed his business career, financing activities in shipping, steel, electric power, mining, insurance and aviation. He sold a collection of Chinese porcelain at Christie's in London in 1938. He continued to collect in diverse fields, and was involved in many philanthropic causes.
Erwin Goldschmidt was eventually able to recover many of the best paintings his family had lost during the Nazi era. As executor of his father's estate, he sold a group of Old Master, 19th century and Impressionist paintings from the collection at Sotheby & Co. in London in 1956. Encouraged by the results, Erwin Goldschmidt then consigned a second group, seven important Impressionist paintings, the finest in his father's collection, which were offered at the same venue on October 15, 1958. These included three paintings by Manet, two by Cézanne, and one each by Van Gogh and Renoir.
The sale was a resounding success. In a spirited twenty-one minute session, the seven paintings brought #781,000 ($22.2 million today). In an era when collectors and dealers thought that no painting could bring more than #30,000, the pictures realized prices ranging from #65,000 to #220,000 at auction. The highest price, a record at that time, was that paid for Cézanne's Le Garçon au gilet rouge (Rewald, no. 659), which became one of the best known paintings in the Paul Mellon Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The sale introduced many practices familiar to the auction world today -- Impressionist and Modern paintings offered as their own category, separated from older masters; a catalogue fully illustrated in color; black-tie evening sales with media coverage; and an extensive marketing campaign. During the nearly half century since this pioneering sale took place, five of the seven paintings have re-appeared at auction (four at Christie's), realizing phenomenal prices, allowing analysts to trace the ever-rising growth curve in the Impressionist and Modern paintings market during the post-war period.
The following two works by Renoir hung on the walls of Jakob Goldschmidt's residence in Neu-Babelsberg, Berlin, before they were seized and sold by the Nazi regime. They were recovered by the Goldschmidt family within a few years following the famous 1958 London auction and are here offered for sale.
Property from the Jakob Goldschmidt Collection