Dorotheum: Auctions in Austria
Best Place for Buying Antiques in Vienna

The Dorotheum is Austria′s most traditional auction venue with several branches all over the country and abroad. "The" Dorotheum, however, is the mother of the chain and can be found in the Dorotheergasse Lane in Vienna. This Austrian version of Sotheby′s is the biggest auction house in Central Europe and makes the core of a neighbourhood that is full with antiques stores at varying sizes and specialities. The Dorotheum feeds these shops both with potential clients attracted by the antiques sold through auctions and with items for renovation and re-sale at the shops. The focus of the Dorotheum lies on antique furniture, art and craft.

The Dorotheum was founded as "Versatz- und Fragamt zu Wien" under the rule of Emperor Joseph I in 1707. Some 80 years later, the institution moved to the current site and occupied the former Dorotheer Abbey. Speaking of abbeys: This was the time when Emperor Joseph II dissolved hundreds of monasteries all over the Habsburg Empire. The Dorotheum had the pleasure of managing the auctions for selling the religious artwork, libraries, churches that had belonged to the various orders. That way, the Dorotheum earned a fortune and a name - the new, current one. In 1901, the old monastery was demolished and a new historicist "Palais Dorotheum" was built, designed by Emil von Förster.

With the collapse of the Empire as a result of WWI and the linked difficulties of the old families, the Dorotheum had a jolly good time in the inter-war period, despite (or because) of the generally rather bleak economic prospects in other industries. Several large art collections were sold through the Dorotheum and the complete interiors of palaces such as the one of Schloss Klessheim in Salzburg.

Rise of the Dorotheum with Nazi Assistance

With the arrival of Nazi rule in Austria after 1938, things went from good to golden for "Tante Dorothee" ("Aunt Dorothy" - as the Dorotheum is still nicknamed in Vienna). The former management was sacked by the Nazis and two new managers were installed as CEOs: Anton Jennewein and Franz Hofbauer fired all Jewish employees of the Dorotheum and worked towards an expansion of the company into all of the Third Reich.

They tried to achieve this by focussing on an emerging market: Selling artwork, craft and interiors that had belonged to Jewish citizens that were forced to sell their possessions. This was called "Arisierung" ("arianisation") and administered by Nazi custom′s offices, the Gestapo and the city of Vienna. The Dorotheum managed to become one of the key players in auctions of previously Jewish-owned antiques and artwork in the Reich and increased its revenue tremendously. With the end of WWII, most of the records of individual items that had been sold were destroyed, which made claims of the original owners or their heirs difficult.

After the war, the Dorotheum remained a public institution, now owned by the Republic of Austria. Like many public institutions of Austria, the Dorotheum worked probably rather inefficiently - proved by the rapid expansion it made after its privatisation in 2001. This year was also a turning point for the company in its policy of dealing with the role it has played for the Nazis. The 32 million Euros that were paid for the Dorotheum were donated for a foundation dedicated to compensation payments for Nazi victims.

Dorotheum today: Between Antiques & Provenience Research

Another important step was the creation of a "Provenience department" at the research division of the Dorotheum. It employs historians as experts on researching the property record of individual items that are or were sold through the Dorotheum′s auctions. In 2006, a group of historians - hired by the company - published a book on the Nazi activities through the Dorotheum.

For tourists, there is little to see in the Dorotheum, unless you are interested in antiques and buying artwork. If so, check out the approximately 600 auctions that are held every year. Or go through the exhibition hall of the Dorotheum, where you can either see items presented before auctions or buy antiques, jewellery and collectables right away (the offline version of the "buy it now" button on ebay).

There are plenty of attractions nearby, so I will name only those in 3-minute walking distance: Note the Dorotheerkirche, the Augustinerkirche, the Austrian National Library, the Spanish Riding School or the Albertina. Palais Lobkowitz and the Theatre Museum is the direct neighbour to the Dorotheum; down the lane you find the Jewish Museum in Palais Eshkeles. Note the Neuer Markt square with the Donner Fountain and the Capuchin Church with the famous Imperial Tomb.

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Further Reading

Official Website of the Dorotheum Austria

English Wikipedia on the Dorotheum in Austria