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It’s Another Getty Coup: Big Acquisition

Buying an archive might not seem as sexy as buying a painting or a sculpture, but today the Getty Research Institute announced a wonderful acquisition: the archive of Knoedler & Company Gallery,  which is widely cited as New York’s oldest art gallery. It has operated here since the mid-19th century. The acquired records date from about 1850 to 1971 — comprising a “vast trove of diverse original research materials including letters, telegrams, albums, sales books, stock and consignment books, card files on clients and art works, rare photographs, reference photo archives, and rare books,” according to the press release.

Thomas Gaehtgens, director of the Getty Research Institute, called it an “invaluable American cultural resource” and that’s not hyperbole.

The press release does not mention the seller, but I believe it is Michael Hammer, chairman of the defunct gallery and son of legendary business man and somewhat controversial collector, Armand Hammer. Although Knoedler was shuttered earlier this year — in a move supposedly unrelated to the fraud cases pending against it and former director Ann Freedman, my understanding is that Hammer retained ownership of the archive separately. He has been trying to sell it for at least a few years — to places including the Archives of American Art, the Frick Art Reference Library and the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin.

The first two — at least — wanted it, but neither could afford the price Hamemr was asking, which was at one time said to be between $5 million and $10 million. No one was biting at that level, and I suspect the price has come down substantially. The Getty did not respond to that particular question asked by me.

Hammer was recently added to the suit filed against Knoedler by Domenico De Sole, chairman of Tom Ford International, and Eleanore De Sole, in an amended complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan. Knoedler closed in 2011.

Knoedler, of course, not only brokered the sale of many, many important European pictures to American collectors during the Gilded Age and since then, but also sold American art by the likes of Helen Frankenthaler, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Eva Hesse, to cite a few examples. Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon, Robert Sterling Clark, and Catharine Lorillard Wolfe.

The Getty Museum has purchased more than a dozen paintings and drawings from Knoedler or which had passed through Knoedler’s hands at some point, including van Gogh’s Irises (right).

The Getty already owns archives of such galleries as Goupil & Cie, Boussod Valadon galleries, and the Duveen Brothers. Although Knoedler’s records are said to be in good order, the Getty must catalogue, process, and conserve them before making them available to researchers on site – and also digitizing them for online research. The latter is the only consolation to New Yorkers. The purchase is fantastic for the Getty, but not so good for New Yorkers.

Photo Credits: Courtesy of the Getty


  1. George Shackelford says:

    New Yorkers can be delighted that now that the archives are in public hands they’ll actually be able to get answers out of them!

  2. John McCann says:

    This is great news for scholars and researchers like me. Several years ago, I was working on research for my” to
    MA in London, the beginning of my opus on collectors (western, mostly US and UK) who framed our understanding of Asian art. I was writing a profile on Charles Lang Freer, and prior to him donating his entire collection of American art (influeneced by James MacNeil Whistler), to form the first museum at the Smithsonian, he showed some top pieces of his Japanese collection, with the contribution of Japan Society, AT Knoedler’s Gallery. I had tremendous success with the great generosity of the Smithsonian, that was not the case with Knoeldler, and I was offered all sorts of excuses they didnt “Know” me, etc. Now this is a GREAT contribution to researchers and art historians. I agree with the prior comments. I think maintaining archival material is so important, that it is “sexy” to me….

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