VAN HAM Company history
Carola Van Ham
Europe's first female auctioneer
In 1959 the art historian Carola van Ham founded the auction house "Kunsthaus am Museum" in her hometown Cologne. She had studied at the University of Cologne, worked at the auction house Lempertz, Cologne, and for many years was assistant to the auctioneer Franz A. Menna. In 1958 when Mr. Menna retired Ms. van Ham continued the tradition of his company as Europe's first female auctioneer.
This was a very daring project as at this time just the monthly rent amounted up to two years income. Colleagues in the art world, hitherto a male domain, assumed that her company would exist no longer than the first two or three years. However Ms. van Ham's sound knowledge of art history and her enormous commercial dexterity enabled her to turn the "Kunsthaus am Museum" into a successful enterprise becoming one of the most important auction houses in Germany.
The art historian Dr. Werner Stopp, whom Ms. van Ham employed in 1960, made an important contribution to the development of the house. A former fellow student of Ms. van Ham, he was active as a restorer after completing his doctorate. His change of profession meant a great leap forward for the young auction house. Dr. Stopp with his very sound knowledge built up the House's department of Old Master and 19th Century Paintings. From the very beginning he put emphasis on 19th Century paintings which were still underestimated in the early 1960's. In 1970 the company was transformed into a general partnership; from then on Dr. Stopp was a business partner.
Ms. van Ham moved her private home away from Cologne to the German town of Kassel in the early 1970's after her marriage with the businessman Hansjörg Eisenbeis. However she not only continued the business but also fostered her social engagements in Cologne. She was active as a amateur judge in commercial law for over 25 years and was also a member of the examination committee for apprentices in the art market, a traineeship which she had initiated herself. With the same enthusiasm she devoted herself to the traffic department of Cologne and the economy council of the Christian Democratic Party CDU. Only in 1997 she put down her role as a sworn expert for antiques due to old age.
A new generation
In 1995 her son Markus Eisenbeis joined the staff of "Kunsthaus am Museum - Carola van Ham" as a member of the management. After a two year apprenticeship at the bank Sal. Oppenheim jr. & Cie., Cologne, he studied Art History, Classical Archaeology and Economics at the University of Bonn and at the University College, London. During his studies he gathered international experience in the auction business working at Christie's, London, and at the Etude Jean-Louis Picard (today Etude PIASA), Paris.
In 1996 the house changed into a limited partnership with Mr. Eisenbeis being the exclusive responsible shareholder. This made it possible for Mrs. van Ham - Eisenbeis to retire and also for Dr. Stopp to work significantly less than before. The fact that the change took place so smoothly was not only achieved by Ms. van Ham's sound experience but also by the enthusiasm and engagement of the very dedicated staff; Reinhard Singer, successor to Dr. Stopp, has to be especially mentioned in this respect, as he made a great contribution to the successful expansion of the Old Master Department.
In the beginning of 1997 the department of Modern and Contemporary Art was expanded. Dr. Petra Schäpers, previously working for the gallery Karsten Greve, Cologne, was taken on as a new expert in order to build up a department for Modern and Contemporary Art. She was succeeded by Robert van den Valentyn in the summer of 2002. In 1998 a network of representatives was established. This includes Ms. Cordula Lichtenberg MA located in Hamburg for Northern Germany, Dr. Barbara Haubold in Munich for Southern Germany and a representative for Belgium and the Netherlands, Dr. Petra Versteegh-Kühner.
The change of generation meant a change of the traditional family business into a modern auction house. On account of the wide ranging programme of the Old Master and Modern departments it has gained a high reputation in the art world. In 1997 the company celebrated a big success; with a hammer price of 1,51 million DM (€ 772.050) for the painting "Hafen von Jaffa", the main work of the German orientalist Gustav Bauernfeind, a threefold record was achieved: It was hitherto the highest price paid for a work by this artist and at the same time the highest price ever paid for a painting dating from the 19th century in Germany. Thus at the end of 1997 the total turnover of 16 Mio. was 50% higher than that of the previous year.
In June 1999 the company left its traditional location next to the "Museum für angewandte Kunst" (Museum for Applied Arts, formerly Wallraf-Richartz Museum) in order to move to more spacious and modern premises in Köln-Bayental. Along with the relocation came the change of name relating traditionalism and innovation. The "Kunsthaus am Museum, Carola van Ham" is now called "VAN HAM Fine Art Auctions". The layout of the catalogues significantly changed and an extensive internet presence was established. www.van-ham.com, a vital source of information, gives important details on how to buy and sell at Van Ham´s and shows all our recent richly illustrated catalogues.
The new location
The new location (Schönhauser Straße 10-16) offers ideal conditions for auctions and exhibitions. The blue prints were designed by the renowned engineer Jürg Steiner, Berlin, and the architect Jochen Siebel, Haan. The largest sale room encompassing 360 square metres at a height of six metres has museum quality and was described as "the most spacious auction room in Germany" by the German newspaper Handelsblatt (14. September 1999). In addition to this the premises have parking facilities and offer easy access by public transport. The official opening celebration in October 1999 was held not only to celebrate the formal opening of the new location but also the company's fortieth anniversary. Right from the beginning full advantage was taken of the possibilities provided by the new location. In autumn 1999 a large exhibition was dedicated to the artist Hans Kralik (1900-1971), a member of the movement "Junges Rheinland".
In autumn 1999 Trude Kleefisch, owner of an auction house specialized in Asiatics at Cologne and Markus Eisenbeis organized an exceptional event: Two auctions, Ms. Kleefisch's "Asiatics" and Van Ham's "Carpets, Antiquities and Asiatics", took place at the same time at the premises of VAN HAM. In the same year another exceptional partnership was established with the Internet company ExtraLot.com specializing in art auctions. Mr. Eisenbeis, share-holder of this company, is the first auctioneer in Germany using this innovative mean.
The Photography Department In the autumn of the year 2000 VAN HAM staged it’s first auction of “Photography” together with the autumn sale of “Modern and Contemporary Art”. The department is headed by Anne Ganteführer-Trier, formerly curator at the August-Sander-Foundation in Cologne. Her last project as curator was the fabulous exhibition “Zeitgenossen – August Sander und die Kunstszene im Rheinland der 20er Jahre”, which was shown in the Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle in Cologne.
The Record Year 2002
In June 2001 VAN HAM landed a great success. The sale of the Old Master Painting “The Dentist” by the Rembrandt-pupil Gerrit Dou broke all records. The small painting (36,8 x 26,6 cm) reached a result of 5, 7 Mio. DM (€ 2.914.363) and thus was and still is not only the most expensive painting ever to be sold at a German auction, but the most expensive work by Gerrit Dou. VAN HAM concluded the year 2001 with an annual turnover of c. 25 Million DM ( € 12.782.297), thus raising former year’s result by 25 %.
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