One Hundred Years at the Library: Going Once, Going Twice, Sold!

In celebration of the centennial of the Frick Art Reference Library, peek into the past one hundred years of the library’s remarkable history through important places, people, and objects from the collections. The objects featured are included in the commemorative publication One Hundred Objects in the Frick Art Reference Library and are available for consultation in our reading room.

In this entry, we take a tour of three significant auction catalogs, a selection from the more than 100,000 publications of this type held at the library.

One of the core collections of the Frick Art Reference Library comprises more than 100,000 auction catalogs dating from the seventeenth century to the present. These publications not only act as the official documentation accompanying an auction, but they are also rich resources for researchers seeking information on the histories of collectors, provenance, attributions, and prices.

One important early auction catalog held by the library documents the July 31, 1771, sale of the art collection of Gerret Braamcamp in Amsterdam. Braamcamp started his career in wine and later switched to the lumber business, where he made the fortune that enabled him to acquire exquisite Dutch paintings. He displayed his collection in his mansion and opened it to the public; it became a tourist attraction during his lifetime and continued even after his death on June 17, 1771.

Book open to a page with the header "Rembrand van Rhyn" and handwritten annotations
Annotated page listing works by Rembrandt sold in the 1771 Braamcamp auction, from Catalogus van het uitmuntend kabinet schilderyen, tekeningen, prenten, beelden, enz. door geheel Europa beroemd, en in veele Jaaren byeenverzameld door den heere Gerret Braamcamp (Catalog of the excellent cabinet of paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, etc., famous throughout Europe, and collected over many years by Mr. Gerret Braamcamp), Amsterdam, 1771, Frick Art Reference Library

Braamcamp stipulated that the sale of his collection would take place a month and a half after his passing, on July 31, and organized an exhibition of its works. More than 20,000 visitors saw his collection before the auction, which sold 313 paintings, 282 drawings, 240 prints in volumes, and 82 sculptures. Included in the sale were works by artists who are household names today, including Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt van Rijn. One notable painting from the auction is Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633), which was stolen in the infamous 1990 heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

The library acquired its copy of the catalog for the Braamcamp sale in 1921 from the collection of Anton Mensing, who was the owner of the Frederik Muller auction house in Amsterdam. Our copy includes annotations for prices and buyers, which help scholars trace the circulation of works of art as they changed hands over the centuries.

Title page reading "Catalogue des Tableaux par Rosa Bonheur"
Title page of Catalogue des tableaux par Rosa Bonheur, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1900, Frick Art Reference Library

Not only does the library hold auction catalogs for collections, like the Braamcamp sale, we also hold catalogs focused on individual artists. Within our collection is the beautiful catalog for the sale of paintings by Rosa Bonheur, which took place from May 30 to June 2, 1900, at Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. Bonheur was one of the most celebrated artists of the nineteenth century, a time when women artists were seldom recognized on an international stage. Bonheur was known for her realistic portrayals of animals across paintings, drawings, watercolors, prints, and sculptures. At the time of her death, in 1899, her studio contained thousands of works of art, many of them never before seen by the public.

Painting of a lion looking up at the sun
Reproduction of Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899), Lion Looking at the Sun, no date, oil on canvas, sold at the Galerie Georges Petit auction, Paris, 1900, Frick Art Reference Library Photoarchive

The catalog for the auction contains an extensive introduction by art critic Léon Roger-Milès, who praises the artist and her work. Copper-plate engravings illustrate several of the lots, which include depictions of lions, tigers, horses, goats, oxen, stags, and dogs. Notably, the catalog’s text was printed in both French and English, reflecting the reach of Bonheur’s celebrity in England and America. The copy held by the library includes price annotations and was acquired in 1934.

Finally, an auction that combines the focus on collectors and on major contemporary artists is the Scull sale of October 18, 1973, held at Sotheby Parke Bernet in New York City. This auction—which became a public sensation—sold major works by American artists from the collection of Robert C. and Ethel Scull, who built their wealth from the Scull’s Angels taxi fleet. At the 1973 auction, they sold fifty works from their collection, which pushed the prices paid for contemporary American art—many of which broke records—to new levels. Among the now-famous artists included in the sale were Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, and Willem de Kooning.

Learn more about the Scull auction and our catalog from the sale in a related video.

On the day of the event, Ethel notably wore a Halston gown with the Scull’s Angels taxi logo across its front. With major news coverage leading up to the sale, the auction rooms were at full capacity, and additional members of the public clamored to get in to see the spectacle. Our catalog has a yellow cover that echoes the checkered taxis that brought the Sculls their fortune. The glossy pages include entries with descriptive information about the works of art for sale, as well as provenance, exhibition history, and scholarly references.

Bright yellow book cover with the title "A Selection of Fifty Works from the collection of Robert C. Scull"
A Selection of Fifty Works from the collection of Robert C. Scull, Sotheby’s, New York, 1973, Frick Art Reference Library

You can make many surprising discoveries within the thousands of auction catalogs held by the Frick Art Reference Library. Beyond the famed and interesting works of art they detail, the sale notes and other information the catalogs contain are invaluable for researchers piecing together the history of an object or collection.

Learn more about the history and offerings of the Frick Art Reference Library at Discover all one hundred objects in One Hundred Objects in the Frick Art Reference Library. To explore more content celebrating the library’s centennial, watch our video series on YouTube, subscribe to our e-news, and follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

One Hundred Years at the Library is supported in part by Virginia and Randall Barbato.

Link(s): Tags:
Facebook Twitter Threads