Labels from art dealers as a valuable source of information

The RKD has recently received a temporary loan of more than nine hundred labels that were created by art dealers and frame makers, dating from the second half of the nineteenth century through to the present. The majority of these labels originate from Dutch companies but there are also examples from the former Dutch East Indies as well as large cities such as Paris, London and Brussels.

The labels, including the metadata, have been made digitally accessible in RKDexcerpts under the banner 'Labels on art'. The dealerships responsible for the labels are in turn catalogued by name in RKDartists. In addition we have supplemented the data from the labels with information found through Delpher, the online platform for digital documents that are part of the Dutch cultural heritage. Although there have been several useful attempts to chart the art-dealers circuit, it can be difficult to trace the marks left by dealers in archives or the art-historical literature.

This substantial collection of labels can enhance our knowledge of the art market and add new insights into the communication and promotion strategies that were used. One important group the labels can tell us about are the 'forgotten' art dealers who were active at the bottom end of the market. For this group, the small print in labels can be an essential, sometimes the only, source of information. It is interesting to note, for instance, that the less well-known companies were (of necessity) more versatile: often their labels also indicate the availability of mirrors, books and artist’s materials. A striking example is the Amsterdam art dealer W. Kroonder, whose stock included 'encadrementen' (frames), mirrors and even furniture. The RKD will continue to develop the digital collection of art dealers’ labels in the future, adding new names to the list of companies and ensuring that the information becomes ever more comprehensive. It is our belief that this service will stimulate research into the national and international network of art dealers, from the nineteenth century onwards.