Bénédicte Savoy “Der Preis der Kunst um 1800”


Symbolic Capital? Prices at the Louvre around 1800

In early 1810 the French government passed a law requiring all state museums to systematically list their complete holdings. The authorities designed inventory forms which over the course of the following three years were carefully filled in by, among others, the administration of the Musée Napoléon (Louvre). At that time, the Louvre held all the artworks that France had confiscated since 1794 in the conquered territories – from the Netherlands to Italy, Germany, Austria, and so on – presenting a kind of super-museum of European art. The inventory was arranged according to schools and its pages were divided into columns detailing the following information: inv. no., artist’s name, short description, provenance, size, appraised value of the artwork, appraised value of the frame, current location, and notes. When the inventory was compiled in 1813, practically all “great” artworks singled out by European art history were assembled in the Louvre. Hence, the “price” category provides an immeasurably useful source for the history of the valuation of artists and art objects both in the material (financial) and the non-material (history of taste) sense. This project addresses the following questions: 1. Why did the regulators insist on an estimate in the year 1813 (a first)? 2. Who was responsible for the appraisals, what were the motivations behind the appointments and what were its consequences? 3. What do the listed prices say about the art market around 1800? 4. What do they say about the history of art history and the history of taste?