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Art market

The 11-kilo, seven-volume, great-grandpa of art sales indexes

The original work is a listing, in French, of paintings, drawings, prints, pastels, enamels and fans sold at auction during the 18th and 19th centuries.

What it was that inspired Thierry Erhmann, the brilliant, maverick owner of Artprice.com, to buy the rights to, and then re-edit Le Mireur, except that Artprice is a major supplier of art market data online and Le Mireur is the great-grandpa of art sales indexes?

The original seven-volume work is a listing, in French, of paintings, drawings, prints, pastels and even enamels and fans sold at auction during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was compiled in 1903 by Dr Hippolyte Mireur, an army doctor whose wide-ranging interests included the treatment of syphilis, prostitution, the Classics (he translated a number of texts), music and art (in 1900 he sold his collection of paintings at Drouot in order to raise the FFr108,000 necessary to produce Le Mireur). Today, that original edition is rare, and researchers generally have to consult it in libraries.

The re-edition has now landed with a thud (it weighs in at a hefty 11 kilos). It has been extensively reworked by Mr Erhmann’s team, who have spent two years cross-checking the information, correcting names that Dr Mireur had turned into French and eliminating overlaps. The listings give the artist’s name, date of sale, name of vendor, price, plus measurements and a very brief description in some cases. (The 76 pages devoted to Rembrandt, for example, have “other portraits” sold in The Hague in 1742 for FFr2 and FFr160.) But we learn that Renoir’s “La promenade”, now in the National Gallery in London, was sold by a Mr Gouspy in 1898 for FFr1,050. There is even a handy reckoner with the books, allowing us to convert the sum into today’s money, although it only starts in 1901. Taking the 1901 figure, then, “La promenade” was sold for FFr221.29 million, about £2 million or $2.8 million. A snip at the price.

Le Mireur costs e746 (£470, $650), or can be consulted online (for a fee) at Artprice.com.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 128 September 2002