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Documenting History: Collectors’ Marks, Stamps and Seals

Collectors of Old Master prints and drawings often had hundreds or thousands of works on paper in their collections to keep track of at a time when inventories were painstakingly made by hand in ledger books. As part of this process, a stamp or seal was put on the back of each work of art to identify the owner, sometimes accompanied by a hand-written inventory number. Royal collections were inventoried and documented in the same way, often with a royal wax seal added to the collection number. These marks have been recorded over time and enable scholarly research into the history and provenance of important works on paper. In the absence of old inventory records or royal archives, collectors’ marks can help identify a work of art and can add value if it is determined that the mark is that of a prestigious or royal collection, or from a prominent historic figure.

Dutch collector and connoisseur Frederick Johannes “Frits” Lugt (1884-1970) is the best-known and most thorough compiler of collectors’ marks. In 1921, Lugt completed Les Marques de collections de dessins et d’estampes, an essential research tool for art historians and collectors. This definitive listing of collectors’ marks and stamps provides a short biography of each owner with a description of their collection and is indispensible for establishing provenance for Old Master drawings and prints. In 1956, Lugt pubblished a Supplément. Lugt himself was an avid collector and authority on Rembrandt, owning every Rembrandt print made, along with six thousand Old Master drawings and thirty thousand prints. A devout Mennonite, Lugt wanted his collection to be available to the public after his death. The result of this wish was the creation of Fondation Custodia which continues to conserve the Lugt Collection in Paris. Online access to Collectors’ Marks on Prints and Drawings can be found on the foundation’s website and is free to all.

Our February 11 European and American Fine Art sale has a very fine selection of Old Master, 18th and 19th century drawings from the Collection of Emile Wolf. Many of the drawings from this collection bear collectors’ marks that add provenance interest.  Examples include Lot 342, a sanguine drawing After Francois Boucher, with the mark from the collection of Lucien Rouze-Huet (Lugt 1742), and Lot 364, a river landscape attributed to Anthonie Waterloo that bears the marks of Compte J.P. Shutelen (Lugt 23320 and Jean Cantacuzen (Lugt 4030). Several works from this collection bear unidentified collectors’ marks, including lots 306, 337 and 339. One of these marks is the initials EW leading one to wonder if this is the collector’s mark of Emile Wolf himself.

Time & Location

Thursday, February 11 at 11am ONLINE

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