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 into the top group of German auction houses with optimism, business acumen and profound knowledge of art history.
In 1996, her son Markus Eisenbeis took over the business after completing a banking apprenticeship at Sal. Oppenheim in Cologne, one of Europe's leading private banks, from 1989 to 1991. He rejected the chance of a career in banking in favor of entrepreneurial freedom in the auction house. From 1991 to 1995, he studied art history, archaeology and business administration in Bonn and London, while at the same time gaining experience at Christie's in London and at Etude Jean-Louis Picard (now PIASA) in Paris. Markus Eisenbeis transformed the auction house, preserving tradition, into a modern and internationally competitive company.
Today, VAN HAM employs about 60 people. The young and dynamic teams are characterized above all by their commitment and continuity. The move to its own new building in Cologne-Raderthal in the summer of 2014 set new standards in the industry in Germany in every respect. It not only confirms VAN HAM's clear commitment to Cologne, but also demonstrates the economic success story of the family-owned company.
The path to the company's success is the balanced addition of modernization and internationalization on the one hand and proven traditions on the other.
The close and trusting relationship with collectors as well as the intensive, personal exchange with museums and foundations form the basis for successful auctions. VAN HAM attaches great importance to personal advice and comprehensive service. The dedicated teams of experts are highly valued by clients in Germany and abroad and secure the trust of customers in the long term. A network of international representative offices and regular expert days throughout Germany successfully round off the concept. The customer magazine "Art Magazine", which presents the auction highlights, is unique in Germany due to its high editorial content.
When it comes to digitalization, VAN HAM takes the pioneering role in Germany - as the only auction house in this country, VAN HAM offers curated online auctions with a focus on modern and contemporary art and thus operates at the pulse of time. The ONLINE ONLY Auctions complement the auction portfolio every two weeks and offer completely new ways of the auction experience. Since January 2019, VAN HAM has been the only German auction house to have its own online auction plattform and is thus able to operate independently of large technology partners. In addition to the possibilities to present the catalogs of the face-to-face auctions digitally and to bid live, it also represents an important innovation for the format of online auctions. In addition, customer data is stored on German servers and managed exclusively by VAN HAM, because well-prepared information and transparency are particularly important to Markus Eisenbeis. Extensive information for buyers and sellers, the submission of bids from the other end of the world via the World Wide Web, a comprehensive database ("Best Archive of Auction Houses", Weltkunst 2008), and the "Gallery of Records" make the Internet an informative platform.
Meanwhile, customers are increasingly making their purchasing decisions, backed by guarantees, without ever having seen the original. Due to the progressive internationalization through the Internet, the market is becoming more and more transparent for collectors and dealers. VAN HAM has all objects above 3,000 Euros checked for theft and looted art by the Art Loss Register, the world's largest private database for lost and stolen art, in order to ensure the flawless provenance of artworks. This holistic professional and at the same time trustworthy appearance of the company to the outside world is essential for a successful concept.
2015 was a special year for the Cologne auction house – VAN HAM held the Achenbach Art Auction, Germany's largest auction of contemporary art to date. The "Auction of Superlatives" not only achieved unparalleled public attention, but also unimagined auction records and record sales. In 2019 and 2020, the SØR Rusche Collection, an unparalleled corporate collection, will again come up for bid. With over 4,000 works, it surpasses the Achenbach Art Auction in size, so VAN HAM will once again hold the largest auction of contemporary art in Germany. In 2020, the sale of part of the Olbricht Collection enriched the auction year. With the sale of approximately 500 works, including high-quality contemporary art as well as fantastic works from the Wunderkammer, VAM HAM once again achieved a White Glove Sale, i.e. a complete sale of the auction. From these unforgettable auctions, another unique selling point of VAN HAM emerged: its expertise in marketing extensive corporate collections. Like no other German auction house, VAN HAM masters the challenge of taking on large volumes in a very short time. VAN HAM has what is probably the largest art depot of any auction house in this country and offers its clients the highest degree of flexibility and the ability to act quickly thanks to a well-rehearsed infrastructure. This unique structure for artists' estates and at the same time courageous expansion is due to the innovative and future-oriented thinking of Markus Eisenbeis.
VAN HAM is distinguished not only by its auction program, but also by its unique and extensive scholarly commitment. Through continuous art research, the house makes a decisive contribution to the networking of science and the art market.
In 2006, VAN HAM founded its own publishing house, VAN HAM Art Publications. The main focus of this scientific branch of VAN HAM is the publication of important catalogs raisonnés. Since then, no other German auction house has published so many catalogs raisonnés - analogue and digital. The publications on Karl Hofer's (1878 - 1955) paintings and sketchbooks and the recently published catalog raisonné of Otto Mueller (1874 - 1930) deserve special mention. That on Paul Kleinschmidt (1883 - 1949) is currently being compiled and will also be published by VAN HAM Art Publications. VAN HAM's first online catalog raisonné on Friedrich Gräsel (1927 - 2013) was published in 2017. The data are all interlinked and accessible to everyone without restrictions. In 2018, the digital Catalogue Raisonné on the œuvre of Bernd Berner (1930 - 2002) already followed.
With VAN HAM Art Estate, VAN HAM demonstrates another commitment that is unique in Germany: the professional management of artists' estates. The goal is to keep an artist and his or her work alive posthumously, and a competent partner is indispensable for this. VAN HAM Art Estate offers a comprehensive service based on many years of experience in the art trade and a traditionally high level of scientific commitment. Currently, VAN HAM Art Estate is in charge of the significant pre- or post estates of Bernd Berner (1930 - 2002), Karl Fred Dahmen (1917 - 1981), Friedrich Gräsel (1927 - 2013), Karl Hofer (1878 - 1955), Tata Ronkholz (1940 - 1997), Bernard Schultze (1915 - 2005), UrsulaSchultze-Bluhm (1921 - 1999), Sarah Schumann (1933 - 2019) and Alfonso Hüppi (1935).
With the founding of the Karl Hofer Committee in the summer of 2012, VAN HAM Art Publications has established the authoritative international institution that clarifies all questions surrounding the attribution and authenticity of works. Independent experts from various fields continue the research and expertization of Karl Bernhard Wohlert in order to be able to adequately answer all questions regarding the works of Karl Hofer in the future. With its work, the Karl Hofer Committee aims to support museums and curators, while at the same time providing a link to Hofer collectors and the art trade. The long-awaited publication of Karl Hofer's catalog raisonné "Watercolors and Drawings" by Karl Bernhard Wohlert is also to be advanced with the founding of the committee, thus continuing Wohlert's years of research.
In addition, VAN HAM has gained international recognition several times in recent years for its responsible handling of restitution - the return of and compensation for cultural assets of Jewish fellow citizens looted during the Nazi era. As early as 2009, the Süddeutsche Zeitung praised "Eisenbeis' impeccable approach... will not only be a yardstick for his house in future cases." In 2014, the Handelsblatt wrote: "It is not the first time that the Cologne auctioneer has shown tact in restitution matters." In recent years, several important works believed to be lost have been sold at auction, the restitution of which was successfully initiated, moderated and concluded through the mediation of VAN HAM. These include paintings from the legendary collections of Alfred Hess, Ismar Littmann, Jacques Goudstikker, Max Stern or Emma Budge.
For years, VAN HAM has played a pioneering role in the fight against forgeries on the art market. The most important medium in this area is the "Database of Critical Works", which serves the industry to protect against forgeries. This was initiated about eight years ago by Markus Eisenbeis for the Federal Association of German Art Auctioneers (BDK), of which Eisenbeis has been vice president since 2000. This database is still internationally unique.
Since fall 2017, Markus Eisenbeis has been a deputy member of the Expert Committee for Cultural Property of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia. Following the adoption of the new Cultural Property Protection Act, the committee makes an assessment of the national significance of a cultural asset within the meaning of the Act on the Protection of Cultural Property.
Regular scientific lectures or theme evenings successfully round off the program and offer the public special insights behind the scenes, where art is not just an economic incentive but a living passion.
With numerous events on the subject of art, VAN HAM regularly offers a sophisticated and professional program for art historians, collectors and art lovers. The spectrum ranges from special auctions to exhibitions that focus in particular on the works of VAN HAM Art Estate artists. In addition, VAN HAM hosts art-related symposia, which are followed by extensive publications, as well as the art Curator Award, which was initiated together with art magazine and which has quickly become the most prestigious award of its kind. Here, the leading curators of the German-speaking world gather annually at VAN HAM.
Our regular program includes:
At VAN HAM, the promotion of young art historians is an important component. In addition to the usual range of internships and traineeships, VAN HAM offers apprenticeships as "retail salesman/woman in the art trade" and advanced training seminars. As a publicly appointed and sworn auctioneer for art and antiques by the Cologne Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Markus Eisenbeis sat on the examination board for many years. He regularly gives guest lectures at universities to promote young talent and has been a freelance lecturer at the Berlin University of the Arts since 2016.
Experience, competence, trust, commitment and passion for art shall be our guidelines also in the future, in new surroundings. The new, own premises were the necessary step of VAN HAM's successful expansion.
The building is a clear statement and reflects the concept of VAN HAM: Its clear echoes of Bauhaus stand for the continuation of the tradition of the house. At the same time, this design of the house points to the present, but remains timeless and not time-bound. Contemporary art will be the focus for the future. For the past five years, the Modern, Post War & Contemporary department has been the house's top-selling department. Committed to the tradition of the house, VAN HAM will remain a "generalist". The traditional areas of the Old Masters, 19th century painting, decorative arts or jewelry are also wonderfully displayed in the new building, as the architecture creates a calm and noble setting without playing itself into the foreground. Its museum-like character shows off the works of all epochs and genres to their best advantage.
In addition to everything new, personal advice and competence through knowledge and experience will continue to be the focus and, along with a passion for art, will be the driving forces for a successful future.
Call us at +49 (221) 92 58 62-0or write to us. We will process your request promptly and get back to you as soon as possible. If you would like us to call you back, please specify a time slot within our business hours (Mon-Fri 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.).