This week I have been deep in the digitized issues of the Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot. The Gazette Drouot still exists: it's the weekly journal of art market news and public auctions in France. I've been looking at sales of works by Gauguin between 1912-1929. Lots of Gauguins sold in those years.
This is not about that.
Today's story is that I gave into temptation and checked out the Gazette in 1939 and 1940. (That this is the kind of thing that tempts me should surprise no one.) France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. The French government abandoned Paris on June 10, 1940, and the Germans took over the city on June 14. How, I wondered, did the Gazette change over those two years?
The Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot was, in the time we're talking about, an official, legal document. Each edition--and there were between two and three a week, depending on the time of year--listed upcoming auctions; highlights of auctions that had occurred;
April 17, 1923, Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot, article on the highlights of April 14 sale featuring "no. 73, a still life representing roses in two vases, for which the asking price was 4,000fr and for which M. Sacha Guitry paid 14,000 fr, bidding against Monsieurs Allard and Durand-Ruel."
and information about auctions happening outside of Paris (whether in the French provinces or internationally). Most of the column inches were given over to itemized auction reports that listed the auctioneer who managed the sale, the expert who wrote the catalog and provided estimates for the goods on the block, and then a list of each item and its sale price. Sometimes, not always, it included the name of the purchaser.
Announcements for upcoming sales and advertisements for particular art dealers filled the remainder of the 4-6 pages of the paper. Here's the April 7 ad for the April 14 sale of Modern Paintings that included Flowers and Fruit:
The page with advertisements for art dealers varied little from issue to issue.
I've left the image large so that you can read the advertisers' names more easily.
The Gazette did not publish an issue between June 7 and October 3, 1940. The June 7 issue was one page, back and front. The first news item: an auction scheduled for that morning, of "art objects and old and new furniture," had been cancelled. Next, there was a quick update on the June 3 sale of office furniture from a bankrupt company followed by four columns of announcements of upcoming auctions of, for the most part, furniture. Dining room suites, beds, dressers, chairs, porcelain, glassware: entire households were scheduled to come under the auctioneer's hammer. And the art dealers' advertisements had shrunk to three from the usual dozen or more:
The next issue appeared on October 3, 1940. "The Auction House," ran the opening article, "has become active again and in September sales grew in number and quality." What was up for auction? On September 20, a silver vase in the art deco style had sold for 1,210 fr. A piano manufactured by Erard brought 3900fr. An Aubusson rug: 4900fr. Four days later there was an auction of jewelry in which one ring bearing a 6 carat diamond solitaire sold for 183,500fr. Fur coats sold on September 30 for between 3000 and 5000fr. Very few paintings made the list of sales that were dominated by objects whose value was less a question of taste than of ready cash.
The coming auctions in October promised more of the same: each week there would be an auction of "jewelry and silver,""paintings, books,...phonographs, musical instruments,...collectibles, silverplate, etc." There would be carpets of all sorts--Chinese, Oriental, Aubusson. Porcelain and ceramics. Linens. Kitchen goods. An enameled bathtub. Electric and gas kitchen stoves. Drouot had always sold all sorts of objects, bathtubs as well as Breughels. But the Breughels (and the Fragonards, the Géricaults, the Gauguins) are not coming to market. Objects that are more utilitarian, easier to part with and of less uncertain value, are.
In the October 3 edition of the Gazette there is not one advertisement for an art dealer. Nor are there any the week following, or the next, or for the rest of the month. Nor in November. The first advertisements for art dealers appear again on December 4. There are 12: Schoeller, Damidot and Lacoste, Linzeler and Fromanger, Watelin, Privat, Lefrançois, Prolongeau, Alophe, Préau, Rousseau, Imbert, and Dernis.
Note the names that are there. And note the names that are gone.
Reading advertisements in old newspapers never gets old for me, so this week while I've been keyword searching the Gazette I've also taken a few minutes to look at the ads, the names and the addresses, the elaborate fonts and the clean, austere ones. Some of the names I know from other contexts, and some have just captured my imagination. Take Marcel Rosenwald, buyer of "antiques, curiosities, and ivories" in his shop in the rue des Archives. I know the rue des Archives a little: it's close to the falafel place where we used to go. I see his name and his address and I wonder where he ate lunch. Did he go home and dine with Madame, or did he sometimes just go around the corner for falafel? Where did he go in 1940?
I am always urging my students to give specific details. We care about the tablecloths and the rings and the small shop in the rue des Archives. Tell me that France fell in June 1940, and that people tried to get out of the country, and that Jews were persecuted and hunted down, and I will nod and say, yes, I knew that. Tell me about Monsieur Rosenwald and his ivories in the rue des Archives, show me how he once advertised--and then he didn't--and it's another matter entirely.
I hope he got out.