The Dorotheum, art auctions since 1707

The Belvedere with Klimt. The Bruegels of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. The cafés in the historical city center. We all know these are the must-see for anyone who passes through Vienna.
Alberto Gerosa
24.06.2022 06:00

The Belvedere with Klimt. The Bruegels of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. The cafés in the historical city center. We all know these are the must-see for anyone who passes through Vienna. But equally recommendable is a visit to No. 17 Dorotheergasse, home to the Dorotheum, a major auction house, since 1707. The exhibition rooms are set across three floors of the Palais Dorotheum, amongst paintings from all periods, Meissen porcelain as well as magnificent Persian rugs. It is experience comparable to visiting a museum, except there is a difference: here the items on display can be purchased. Occasionally with record-breaking payouts and much of it is not even on display or hanging on the walls of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum or at the New York’s Met (in 2010 Mankind’s Eternal Dilemma: The Choice Between Virtue and Vice by Flemish artist Frans Francken II fetched 7.02 million euros), but more frequently at very attractive prices one would be unlikely to snatch up from a gallery or another art dealer. Admittedly, it is not every day that one is fortunate enough to remain on the shores of the beautiful blue Danube, yet the Dorotheum literally enters one’s home thanks to its beautifully curated paper catalogs with their trademark white cover, on which the Dorotheum clearly features the distinctive red Pantone 187 C «corporate color». It goes without saying that the same catalogs are also available a month before the corresponding auctions on Dorotheum’s website and app, a circumstance that has returned to the full advantage of the company in the long months (and years) of the public health emergency: «During the pandemic, interest in buying art objects actually increased», confirms Martin Böhm, who has led Dorotheum since 2001, «and the reason for the success is the extensive digital strategy we have been implementing for years».

No wonder, then, that Dorotheum’s clientele-collectors, museums, as well as people seeking suitable furniture to adorn their homes is distributed in roughly equal parts between Austria and the the rest of the world. Out of the needs that have emerged over the past two years, Dorotheum has made a virtue of replacing in-person sales with online auctions. It is a trend that is set to be reinforced after the end of the emergency: «We are very satisfied with the huge audience reached», says Martin Böhm; «we have increased our visibility, which is synonymous with high sales and significant relaunches. Between May and June, the Classic and Contemporary Week major auctions still feature live auctions, in which people can bid in person, either on site or at a distance, via monitor or by phone, written mandate or matchmaker». To everyone, but particularly to those who do not like the thrill of competition, we still recommend always reviewing the unsold lists, where bargains are often concealed that can be purchased at around the estimated price. In this respect, it is useful to know that the Verkaufsgalerien on the ground floor of Palais Dorotheum offers paintings, posters and objects of applied art at a fixed price. Unlike many other auction houses, Dorotheum’s offerings are extremely varied, with more than 40 categories covering almost all areas of collecting, from stamps to vintage cars, from furniture to books. «Our most important category from an economic point of view is figurative art - Böhm underscores - which is broken down into Contemporary, Modern, Old Masters, and 19th-century paintings.

The categories that have been added such as wines and luxury handbags; we are working on further diversification of the offerings and watching the development associated with Nft digital art». The lots that flow into Dorotheum’s catalogs hail mostly from Europe (the auction house has branches around the Continent, namely in London, Rome, Brussels and Prague): partly from the termination of commercial or museum activities, partly perhaps even from younger couples who find their grandmother’s furnishings unsuitable for their new apartment and from «art collectors deciding to part with their pieces in order to buy other pieces of higher value, or to simply buy art of a different genre, or even to restructure their collection». The considerable added value is not only represented by the size of the auction fees charged by Dorotheum, which are variable depending on the type of purchase but completely in line with competitors, but also and maybe above all by the legion of over 100 experts. They are the ones who evaluate the lots and set the prices, in light of their knowledge of the market and, for the majority of them, decades of operating in their respective fields of expertise. All of this translates into top-notch pre-sales and after-sales service, ensuring peace of mind even in the case of major purchases: «The Dorotheum is accountable for the authenticity of what it sells and there is no need to worry. Fundamentally, we always strive to achieve the best solutions for our customers». This also includes shipping, something the auction house organizes through reliable partners and with packaging to guarantee the integrity of the most delicate merchandise. Confronted with such an insight into the art market, we cannot avoid the fateful question: on which artists should we focus? «On good names, on quality rather than quantity. By seeking advice», Böhm responds, finally adding: «Ultimately, it is important that the buyer likes the works»!