Jacques Seligmann was born in Frankfurt-am-Main, the second son of a moderately successful flour merchant. In the 1860s he left for France and became a French citizen upon reaching legal age. His fluent French helped him get a job as an assistant with the leading Parisian auctioneer Maître Paul Chevallier. After learning much about the trade in Chevallier's Hôtel Drouot, Jacques moved on to work for Charles Mannheim. In 1880, at age twenty-two, he opened his own shop on the rue des Mathurins. Around 1900 his business became so large that he established the Galerie Seligmann on the Place Vendôme. The gallery was extremely successful and had as its main clients J.P. Morgan, William Randolph Hearst, and Joseph Widener. Eventually Jacques purchased the Palais de Sagan in Paris for larger exhibitions for his discriminating clients. Jacques' younger brother Arnold had been his partner in the Place Vendôme firm, but a 1912 quarrel between the two resulted in a legal split. Arnold remained at the Place Vendôme branch under the firm name Arnold Seligmann & Cie., while Jacques consolidated his activities at Sagan as J. Seligmann & Cie., later J. Seligmann et Fils.
Jacques had made annual visits to New York, which prompted him to open a branch of his gallery there in 1913, in the former E.H. Harriman house at 705 Fifth Avenue. The New York branch was managed beginning in 1920 by Jacques' son Germain [1893-1978]. Arnold Seligmann died c. 1935, and was succeeded in the business by his son, Jean, who was executed by the Nazis during World War II. Following Jean's death, Jacques' two sons managed the Seligmann enterprises: François-Gerard in Paris and Germain in New York.