Raphael Selig vor seinem Geschäft
Portrait von Raphael Selig

Raphael Selig vor seinem Geschäft

Raphael Selig vor einem Kunstwerk in seinem Antiquitätenladen

«Art dealers had the goods that museums were looking for.»

Five questions to Raphael Selig

Rapha­el Selig is an art dea­ler. He is the sixth gene­ra­ti­on of his fami­ly to run Basel’s famed shop, Anti­qui­tés Ségal. Nao­mi Lubrich spo­ke to him about the rela­ti­onship bet­ween art dea­lers and museo­lo­gists, the first Judai­ca in Basel and chan­ging tas­tes in old objects.

Nao­mi Lubrich: Rapha­el, you are the sixth gene­ra­ti­on of your fami­ly to run Basel’s antique shop, Anti­qui­tés Ségal. How was it founded? 

Rapha­el Selig: As far as we know, the foun­der, Joseph Ségal, came to Basel from Alsace with Napoleon’s sol­diers in the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry. He was a pedd­ler and traded in house­hold items, such as car­pets and Bie­der­mei­er fur­ni­tu­re. But his busi­ness was short-lived. Like most Jews in Basel, his resi­dence per­mit ended with Napoleon’s defeat. By 1862, the legal situa­ti­on for Jews was more favorable, so his son Isaak sett­led with his grand­son Bert­hold on Spa­len­berg. Bert­hold was lucky: He was in busi­ness as lar­ge muse­ums were ope­ning. The Muse­um für Völ­ker­kun­de (today: Muse­um der Kul­tu­ren) and the His­to­ri­sches Muse­um ope­ned in Basel, and the Swiss Natio­nal Muse­um ope­ned in Zurich. Art dea­lers had the goods that muse­ums were loo­king for, from sil­ver goblets to woo­den spoons. The cura­tor of the Muse­um für Völ­ker­kun­de, Edu­ard Hoff­mann-Kray­er, bought ca. 100 objects from Anti­qui­tés Ségal within ten years.

NL: How important are Judai­ca for your shop?

RS: Judai­ca were never of finan­cial importance for our store. Most other Jewish art dea­ler fami­lies would pro­ba­b­ly say the same. Not many peo­p­le coll­ec­ted Judai­ca, except for a small num­ber of well-known fami­lies, such as the Eph­rus­sis, the Roth­schilds and the Oppen­hei­mers. But Juda­ism plays an important role in our work for a dif­fe­rent reason: When buy­ing objects, Jewish dea­lers could often rely on a wide net­work. They were in cont­act with other Jewish dea­lers in dif­fe­rent count­ries. I mys­elf have a part­ner in Lon­don. It’s an advan­ta­ge for purcha­sing objects.

NL: But a num­ber of peo­p­le bought Judai­ca – and still do.

RS: Jews gai­ned equal rights in 1866. Tho­se who expe­ri­en­ced the so-cal­led eman­ci­pa­ti­on first­hand were also the first to have finan­cial means. Their pre­de­ces­sors lacked the abili­ty to acqui­re beau­tiful objects. A shift then took place around 1870. The new gene­ra­ti­on desi­red valuable ritu­al objects. The Jewish com­mu­ni­ty of Basel for ins­tance com­mis­sio­ned lar­ge, repre­sen­ta­ti­ve cand­le­sticks, scrolls and Kid­dush cups. Nota bene, the­se were new crea­ti­ons, not used objects. Judai­ca befo­re the 19th cen­tu­ry are extre­me­ly rare. Only Ita­li­an com­mu­ni­ties manu­fac­tu­red Judai­ca befo­re the 19th cen­tu­ry. They were more pro­spe­rous and less likely to be expel­led from their homes, in con­trast to the com­mu­ni­ties in Ger­man-spea­king countries.

NL: Have tas­tes changed?

RS: Yes: Cus­to­mers used to buy most­ly orna­men­tal objects. Today, many pre­fer objects with a sto­ry. As a result, a baro­que sil­ver­work can have a lon­ger shelf life than, say, a woo­den spoon with an emblem or a Hebrew inscrip­ti­on. But tas­tes vary. In France, «aris­to­cra­tic» pie­ces are very popu­lar. It shouldn’t come as a sur­pri­se in the land of so many cast­les. So tas­tes vary by regi­on. And they also vary by gene­ra­ti­on. Our most fre­quent cus­to­mers are six­ty years old and older. And a lar­ge num­ber are for­ty or youn­ger. But cus­to­mers bet­ween for­ty and six­ty are rare. They pre­fer to spend their money in other ways, for exam­p­le on vaca­ti­ons. I’ve also noti­ced a demo­gra­phic chan­ge: In the 1960s, midd­le and lower-class fami­lies bought anti­qui­ties, the lat­ter often in install­ments. Today, most of our buy­ers are wealt­hy. They invest in top objects with las­ting value.

NL: Are the­re bar­gains, objects we don’t suf­fi­ci­ent­ly appreciate?

RS: Many objects are traded below value. Fur­ni­tu­re, for ins­tance, is very cheap. Many old tables and chests of dra­wers are mas­ter­pie­ces of craft­sman­ship. They will sur­vi­ve for hundreds more years. Judai­ca from the Bau­haus peri­od were an insi­der tip twen­ty years ago, today they have rea­ched the upper pri­ce seg­ment. But land­scape pain­tings are very afforda­ble. What used to trade for five figu­res now is likely to cross the table for a few thousand francs. Some cus­to­mers would call them bor­ing. But tomor­row they might chan­ge their minds!

NL: Rapha­el, thank you very much for this inter­view. I’ll take a clo­ser look at the land­scape pain­tings next time I see one.

verfasst am 26.04.2023