In 1959, art historian Carola van Ham founded the auction house Kunsthaus am Museum in her hometown of Cologne. As Europe's first female auctioneer she quickly led the company with much optimism, business acumen and sound art historical knowledge to the top group of German auction houses.
After completing his studies as a banker from 1989-1991 at Sal Oppenheim in Cologne, one of Europe's preeminent private banks, her son, Markus Eisenbeis, became director of the business in 1996. He rejected the possibility of a career in banking in favor of the corporate freedom of the auction house. From 1991 to 1995, he studied art history, archeology, and economics in Bonn and London, and at the same time gained practical experience at Christie's in London, as well as at the Etude Jean-Louis Picard (now PIASA) in Paris. Markus Eisenbeis converted the auction house, preserving the tradition, into a modern company, competative at international level. The first move to larger premises in 1999 was one necessary step.
Today, VAN HAM employs about 60 employees. The young and dynamic teams distinguish themselves in particular by their commitment and their continuity. The move to the own new building in the summer of 2014 sets new standards in the industry in every way. Not only does it confirm VAN HAM's clear commitment towards Cologne, but also demonstrates the economic success story of the family business.
VAN HAM conducts an average of 18 auctions annually in the following categories: Modern Art, Post War, Contemporary Art, Fine Art, European Applied Arts, Jewellry and Watches, and Decorative Art. The opening of the new building is accompanied by the opening of a new department. After the acquisition of the auction house "Kunsthandel Klefisch" Asian Art will broaden the repertoire of VAN HAM. Such cooperations are a true exception on the auction market.
Philosophy and Expertise
The route to VAN HAM's current success constitutes a balance between complimentary matters: on one hand, modernization with an international focus; on the other, maintained business traditions. Our close and trusting relationship with collectors and personal exchanges with museums and foundations form the basis of successful auctions. VAN HAM places great emphasis on personal consultation and customer service. Our dedicated team of specialists is highly valued by customers at home and abroad. They work to ensure customer confidence in the long term. A network of international offices and regular Expert Days complete our diverse offerings. Our customer Magazine "Art Magazine" presents auction highlights and a significant amount of editorial content, making it unique in Germany.
Transparency and Security
Well-presented information and transparency are particularly important to Markus Eisenbeis. Our consistent use and expansion of our online offerings has successfully transformed VAN HAM into an internationally-oriented auction house. Detailed information for buyers and sellers; online bidding for collectors worldwide; a comprehensive database (the "Best Auction House Archive" according to Weltkunst, 2008); and our Gallery of Records: all these features have made our homepage an exciting, informative platform. In recent years, and with the backing of guarantees, customers have increasingly decided to purchase objects without ever having seen the original. The progressive international nature of auctions made possible through the Internet ensures that the market will remain transparent for collectors and dealers. VAN HAM checks all objects valued at over 1,000 € for theft and looting with the Art Loss Register, the world's largest private database of lost and stolen art. The process ensures that our auction house knows the proper provenance of each work of art. As these initiatives exemplify, VAN HAM's success is grounded its continued reputation as a trustworthy and professional auction house.
VAN HAM does not only distinguish itself by its auctions, but also by its unique and ample scientifc commitment. By means of continual art research VAN HAM contributes to the networking between science and the art market. VAN HAM is the only auction house to have published essential catalogue raisonnés of internationally known artists. In the publishing house VAN HAM Art Publications the catalogue raisonnés of Karl Hofer, Fritz Klimsch and Franz Roubaud have already been published. With the founding of the Karl Hofer Commitee VAN HAM Art Publications founded the leading international institution that clarifies all questions concerning the ascription and authenticity of the works.
A further column of the house and sign for the dynamic development is VAN HAM Art Estate. A capable partner is vital when it comes to the professional management of artists' estates. With the founding of VAN HAM Art Estate VAN HAM offers comprehensive support, that is based on years of experience in the art trade and the traditionally large, scientific commitment. VAN HAM Art Estate takes care of the estates or parts of estates of the artists Karl Fred Dahmen, Karl Hofer, Friedrich Gräsel, Bernd Berner, Tata Ronkholz and Ernst Seger.
In recent years VAN HAM moreover gained international recognition for its responsible dealing of restitutions - the return of and compensation for cultural artifacts of Jewish fellow citizens stolen during the NS period. As early as 2009 the Süddeutsche Zeitung praised "Eisenbeis' impeccable behavior that sets a high standard, not only for his house and future cases". In 2014 the Handelsblatt wrote: "It is not the first time that the Cologne auctioneer demonstrates instinct while handling restitution matters." In recent years several significant works, that were believed lost, could be auctioned off. Their restitution was successfully initiated, moderated and completed by VAN HAM. Among them are paintings from the legendary collections Alfred Hess, Ismar Littmann, Jacques Goudstikker, Max Stern or Emma Budge.
For years VAN HAM has now played a leading role in the fight against forgeries on the art market. The most important vehicle in this area is the "Datenbank kritischer Werke" ("Database of Critical Works") that serves the industry as a protection from forgeries. It was initiated about eight years ago by Markus Eisenbeis for the Bundesverband Deutscher Kunstversteigerer (BDK), of which Eisenbeis has been vice president since 2000. This database remains internationally unique. In autumn 2017 Markus Eisenbeis became a vice member in the committee of experts for cultural assets of North Rhine-Westphalia. After the approval of the new Cultural Asset Protection Act the committee Expresses a recommendation about the national significance of a cultural asset in regards of the Protection Act.
Regular scientific lectures or theme nights successfully complete the programm and offer the public particular insights behind the scenes, where art is not only economic appeal but true passion.
Karl Hofer Committee
VAN HAM is the only German auction house to publish significant catalogue raisonnés for internationally known artists such as Fritz Klimsch, Franz Roubaud and Karl Hofer. In 2009, the catalogue raisonné of paintings by Karl Hofer was published, followed by the catalogue raisonné of Hofer's sketch books in 2015. The catalogue raisonné of the artist's watercolors and drawings is in preparation.
In addition, the summer of 2012 saw the founding of the Karl Hofer Committee. Independent experts with diverse areas of specialization will continue the research and evaluations previously conducted by Karl Bernhard Wohlert. The goal is to continue to be able to adequately respond to all questions regarding Hofer's works. With its work, the Karl Hofer Committee aims to support museums and curators while also establishing a connection between Hofer collectors and the art market. The Committee will also continue Wohlert's work on and extensive research for the much-anticipated publication of the catalogue raisonné of Hofer's watercolors and drawings.
VAN HAM regularly hosts scholarly lectures during our spring and fall auction seasons. All current and upcoming events at VAN HAM are listed on our homepage:
Supporting the Next Generation of Art Professionals
The professional advancement of young art historians is crucial to VAN HAM. In addition to offering internships and opportunities for trainees, VAN HAM provides the chance to gain a practical education as a retail merchandiser of art, as well as seminars for professional development. As an arts and antiques auctioneer licensed and publically sworn in by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Cologne, and as Vice President of Germany's Art Auctioneers Association, Markus Eisenbeis heads the examination board. He lectures regularly as a guest at universities to encourage the next generation of art specialists and became a free lecturer at the University of Arts Berlin in 2016.
The New Building and a Look into the Future
Experience, expertise, trust, commiment and passion for art shall remain our guidelines in the future, in a new surrounding. The new, own premises are the necessary step for the successful expansion of VAN HAM.
The building is a clear statement and reflects the concept of VAN HAM: its clear similarities to the Bauhaus stand for the continuation of the house's tradition. At the same time the house's design points to the present, but remains classic and not time-related. In Contemporary Art will be the focus for the future. For five years the departement for Modern and Contemporary Art has been the one with the strongest revenue of the house, but especially Contemporary Art will in the future be the strongest focus. Committed to the house's tradition VAN HAM will remain "generalist". The traditional areas of Fine Art, paintings from the 19th century, European Applied Arts or Jewellery will be shown to advantage wonderfully in the new building, because the architecture offers a calm and generous frame, without pushing itself to the fore. Its museum character presents works from all eras and genres to their best advantage.
By founding VAN HAM Art Estate, VAN HAM offers a professional management for artist's estates. In summer 2017 VAN HAM acquired a spaciously warehouse with offices of over 3.800 square meters. Here complete estates, collections and large holdings can be stored expertly, catalogued professionally and documented for scientific research at short notice. It probably is Germany's largest art auction warehouse, which offers VAN HAM's Clients high flexibilty and fast ability to act. Thanks to Markus Eisenbeis' innovative and future-oriented thinking, this courageous expansion also sets an unique structure for artist's estates.
Next to everything new, personal consulting and expertise through knowledge and experience will remain the main element and be, next to the passion for art, the spring for a succesful future.