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Auction Catalogs

One of the best collections of auction catalogues in North America (more than 100,000 publications from the 17th century onward) is shelved on the concourse level by name of the house or dealer, and up to ten per day can be retrieved for a reader. The library maintains subscriptions to current and upcoming announcements from auction houses and dealers in Europe and the United States; the most recent are in the periodicals reading room. Some sales catalogues, including the Knoedler Library Auction Catalogues on Microfiche, are also available in microform.

Sales publications are valuable to researchers investigating provenance, appraisals, or the history of artistic taste and the economics of art markets. Special resources of this type include the library’s nearly complete run of official catalogues from the Paris Salon since 1699, as well as publications by and about Salon exhibitions up to the present day. Some National Gallery of Art founders and donors such as Chester Dale bequeathed their own copies of early 20th-century sales catalogues to the library—many annotated with notes and prices.

Auction catalogues are entered into the online library catalogue, Mercury, as they arrive. Most are searchable in a section separate from books and journals. The most effective search employs the year, month, and day of a sale.

The National Gallery of Art Library contributes to the consortium of SCIPIO (Sales Catalog Index Project Online), a joint catalogue of sales catalogue holdings of 25 member libraries. This service extends the indexing in the library’s annotated copies of Fritz Lugt’s Répertoire des catalogues de ventes publiques (1600‒1925). OCLC’s WorldCat can also provide locations of auction catalogues in libraries around the world.

Online databases provide convenient information for tracking sales and prices of individual works of art, but those vendors require individuals’ payment for searching. Call the reference desk for suggestions on searches in categories such as painting, decorative arts, or ancient sculpture. The library keeps print indexes, including Art Price Index, Art Sales Index, and Mayer’s International Auction Records in the reference room, along with Gordon’s Print Price Annual and Lawrence’s Dealer Print Prices for sales of prints. Sotheby’s and Christie’s maintain their own historical databases on the web.

For information on disposition of works of art lost during World War II, the library’s image collections and Gallery Archives offer guides and finding aids.