100 years ago, in 1923, the art historian Georg Karl and the Germanist Curt von Faber du Faur founded the auction house in Munich. The focus of the art and literature antiquarian is initially on book sales and auctions in the Gärtnerplatz district, later on Karolinenplatz.
In 1923, in the midst of the turmoil of a still-young Germany, two former trench warriors founded an art and literature antiquarian bookshop in Munich. The Germanist Curt von Faber du Faur and the somewhat younger art historian Georg Albert Josef Karl give their company the name “Karl & Faber”.
From antiquarian bookshop to the first auction
In 1927, the company held its first auction at Max-Josephs-Straße 7. The top lot, “Der abenteuerliche Simplicissimus” (The Adventurous Simplicissimus) by Grimmelshausen from the Victor Manheimer Collection, achieves a very handsome result of 1,750 gold marks by the standards of the time. Just two years later Curt von Faber du Faur leaves the company. After an extended stay in Florence, he emigrated to the USA with his wife in 1939. There, in 1944, he accepts a call to Yale University, where he teaches and researches as a professor.
In 1932, Karl & Faber moved into eleven rooms on the ground floor of a house on Karolinenplatz, one of the best addresses for antiquarian booksellers in Munich. The departure of the co-founder does not dampen the success of the company. Georg Karl now runs the business alone – with important auctions. Under his management, bibliophile treasures from the library of the Augsburg patrician Marcus Fugger (1529-1597) are auctioned off, as are works from the collection of the princes Oettingen-Wallerstein.
As the Nazi bureaucracy now claims the quarter around Karolinenplatz for itself, the antiquarian bookshop moves to a rear building at Brienner Strasse 10 in 1937. After heavy British air raids, the 25th and last auction during the Second World War is moved to Murnau in 1944 for security reasons. For the time being, it is the last auction until the end of the war. In the years after the war, Karl & Faber focuses particularly on art auctions: In the 30th auction of the house, art prints are auctioned separately for the first time.
The young auctioneer Louis Karl
Louis Karl, Georg Karl’s 19-year-old son at the time, joined the company as an auctioneer in 1961, taking over as sole owner ten years later. He gradually shifted the focus of the house from books to art and ushered in the dawn of modernism. He began an intensive collaboration with US collectors, who were among the auction house’s most important clients for decades. Louis Karl also initiates exhibitions and successfully auctions important collections. In 1979, for example, works on paper from the Romantic period by the Haniel family go under the hammer at the 150th auction. The collection of Reinhard Piper also causes a sensation in 1981 – the publisher was a close friend of the artists Barlach, Beckmann and Kubin. Louis Karl will lead the company’s fortunes for more than three decades.
100 years of expertise and results
At the beginning of the new millennium, Karl & Faber experienced a change in management. In 2003, Dr. Rupert Keim and his family acquired the company. Keim’s sister-in-law Nicola Keim became the main shareholder. As a member of a culture-supporting German entrepreneurial family, art is very close to her heart. The new management expands the auction offer to include contemporary art and expands the company network. Representative offices are established at several locations in Germany as well as in Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Great Britain and the USA. At the same time, Dr. Rupert Keim continues the company’s tradition and successfully conducts important auctions.
In 2007, for example, Karl & Faber auctioned the Walter Bareiss Collection, in 2010 a part of the Marvin and Janet Fishman Collection – the most successful German auction of a single collection of German art from the 1920s and 1930s – and in 2015 “Prints of German Expressionism” from the Ahlers Collection. In the 2014 auction of selected works from the Gunter Sachs Collection, the Karl & Faber art auction house was able to knock down almost all lots thanks to strong demand and strong international participation. Also very successful in 2018 is the auction of the Hamburg Preuss Collection with the special catalogue “Reiz der Linie” – with contemporary works on paper from Lucebert to Tuttle. The sales quota is almost 170 per cent according to estimates. Thanks to an innovative digital strategy and cooperations with leading online auction portals, Karl & Faber continues to expand its reach. In 2019, numerous customers from 92 countries bid at the auctions.
With the 2020 special auction “Tendencies of Abstraction”, Karl & Faber is able to draw attention to an artistic spectrum that otherwise receives little attention on the art market, with a success rate of 150 percent according to estimates. “White White Bianco Blanc” in the summer of 2021, a “White Glove Sale”, again shows that works by rather unknown artists can be marketed better in a collecting context. A year later, in spring 2022, five top collections are auctioned off very successfully, including the special auction of a renowned Hamburg collection under the name “Anything Goes”, which, with a humorous wink, brought together “fierce painting and unbounded sculpture” of the 1980s generation of artists. In autumn 2022, the auction of the Grčić Collection, with a sales quota of 160 percent by estimate, will once again demonstrate Karl & Faber’s expertise in the sense of the claim ‘The Art of the Collection’.
Today, Karl & Faber is one of the most dynamic auction houses in the D-A-CH region.