German Group

    Stephanie Gorman, Sally Marquez, Tiffany Naiman

    Visualizing German Sales Catalogs 1930-1945: Places, Prejudices, and Patterns

    The Getty Providence Index contains German sales catalogs from 1930 to 1945.  We immediately thought by exploring these sales we could learn things regarding the practices of German auction houses during the Nazi regime. The political situation in Germany during this era meant that art long held in families, especially Jewish families, was subject to movement and sale at a frequency and by means that would not have occurred under a different government.  Such purchases were fraught with ethical ramifications and speak to more than just the buyers’ and sellers’ taste in art.

    Our first step was to clean and translate the data, which we did within GoogleDocs and with GoogleTranslate.  There are a total of 2895 entries [1].

    Once translated we used the notes to create a word cloud with Wordle. This visualization tool easily revealed frequently recurring words and themes in response to which we formulated questions.

    Word cloud, exhibiting furniture & paintings as common

    Initial word cloud

    The initial word cloud shown here revealed that certain months and seasons were important, such as fall and spring.  In our research, we found that this was not a revelation but rather a common practice in the art world for sales to most often occur in spring and fall. This shows that sometimes, visualizing data can at times seem to reveal things that to a more specialized eye are rather banal. Despite this, we decided to visualize the seasons.

    Amount of paintings sold per month and season

    However, the word cloud did expose the fact that furniture and paintings were the most widely sold types of objects. The revelation that so much furniture was sold seemed to match other well-known narratives of entire households being confiscated and liquidated during Nazi rule. Our desire was to use the data to reveal which sales in the catalogs might have come from Jewish families and thus, add to the long history of research done in order to help families reclaim lost objects and buyers not to purchase artworks with questionable provenance.  We had our question but were unsure how to look for the answers.  We saw a few entries that were labeled in the notes “non-Aryan” and this led us to wonder if there were other code words we might be overlooking.

    Word cloud of most common items mention in data notes

    Word cloud of specific items sold at auction

    To get more information on our hunch we reached out to Professor of European History, Jonathan Petropoulos, P.h.D. at Claremont McKenna College. Professor Petropoulos has written numerous books and articles on the art world of Nazi Germany and works with art dealers presently to research provenance of objects.  He pointed out other code words that might be useful to search for in the data including “jg,” which could demarcate a Jewish household or person and others such as “liquidate” or “voluntary.” Professor Petropoulos let us know that “voluntary” did not always mean without duress and could also mean these items were flight goods.

    Types of Sales by Year


    With this information we worked to create visualizations showing where various kinds of sales occurred using Google Fusion Tables.  The maps below show the following

    1) all german sales

    Map of all German Sales 1928-1945

    Map of all German Sales 1928-1945

    2) all painting sales

    Map of painting sales

    Map of painting sales

    3) all furniture sales

    Map of furniture sales

    Map of furniture sales

    4) all musical instrument sales

    Map of musical instrument sales

    Map of musical instrument sales

    5) a map of sales using that use code words for Jewish lots

    Map of sales mentioning code words

    Map of sales mentioning code words

    6) a map of code words for Jewish lots where instruments were also sold

    Map of code words and musical instrument sales

    Map of code words and musical instrument sales

    These maps suggest what can be done with this type of data in relationship to location.

    Interestingly, when we looked deeper into the notes of the sales where the code words were used, the auction house Dortheum often appeared.  In doing very cursory research our team found that Dortheum, and auction house founded in Vienna in 1707 was a major player in the selling of once Jewish owned antiques and artworks, once the Nazi’s annexed Austria in 1938.  Professor Petropoulous pointed out to us that 1938 was an important year as the Nazi’s began the “arianisation” of the German art marking, selling off degenerate art, during this time of increased persecution.  So although the end of WWII saw Dortheum destroying most records of individual items that had been sold during Nazi rule, this data, though only on a small scale this data when mapped and sorted aligns with known facts surrounding the market and their involvement with the selling off of “non-Aryan” items.

    Dorotheum, which is located in Vienna, a place known as the cultural center of European art music for over 200 years,  appears in the data as a place that has both the coded language of Jewish confiscation and sales of musical instruments, tying them possibly to the sales of musical instruments held by Jewish musicians and composers.

    Ultimately this data on its own can reveal some things but it appears it would be a more useful tool when possibly cross referenced or triangulated with other data sets in order to investigate provenance during Nazi rule.  There is not enough detail in the notes, or possibly enough honesty, in order to truly visualize items taken from Jewish families, but it certainly lends itself as a place to start.

    Continue reading about German Paintings

    1 We discovered there was one entry from 1928 slightly before the demarcated time period of 1930-1945, however this could be an error as in the notes section it is listed as 1930

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