The Value of Provenance

Réflexions sur la Peinture et la Gravure, accompagnées d’une courte Dissertation sur le Commerce de la Curiosité, et les Ventes en général; Ouvrage utile aux Amateurs, aux Artistes et aux Marchands…

4 p.l., 228, [4] pp. Small 8vo (160 x 95 mm.), cont. calf-backed marbled boards (head of spine a little cracked & vellum lettering piece a little chipped). Metz: Claude Lamort, 1786.

First edition of an important guide to the Parisian art market, written by one of the leading dealers of the latter half of the 18th century. Joullain (ca. 1734-90), the son of a successful engraver and art dealer, organized a number of famous art sales such as those of the Marquis de Marigny, the Marquis de Lassay, Gabriel Huquier, and Philippe Coypel. This work is a comprehensive update to his Répertoire of 1783, which functioned as an index of illustrious provenances. The present work also includes a general introduction to painting, engraving, and art auctions. Both books were groundbreaking and validating the research of provenance and its influence on prices. Joullain was one of the few 18th-century dealers to publish introspective analyses of their field and the art world.

The first 96 pages consist of a history of painting and engraving, in which Joullain discusses various methods and techniques, followed by concise biographies of celebrated engravers, highlighting their specialities and the value of their work. The rest of this book describes the workings of the art market from the perspective of a dealer, with observations on auctions, the sale of curiosities, and collecting as a passion. Some comments are quite bitter: “The inconsistency of amateurs, wealth incompatible with ideas of expenditure relative to luxury, plans of speculation, blind and betrayed trust, tastes replaced by others, such are the causes of which have multiplied sales and enslaved curiosité to whims…”

Joullain frequently mentions the great collectors of the time, many of whom were his clients, and describes their cabinets of art and natural history. Recent auction prices for paintings and engravings are cited to demonstrate the growing significance of provenance. Finally, there is a list of the auction catalogues Joullain deems the most important in their respective specialties.

A nice copy of a pioneering work in the history of art and provenance research.

❧ Provenance: An Alternate History of Art (2012), eds. Gail Feigenbaum & Inge Reist, pp. 94-98.

Price: $2,500.00

Item ID: 6599