Research on Museum Collection Provenance
Establishing the provenance, ownership history, of works of art is a critical component of museum research as it sheds light on the historical, social, and economic context in which works were created and collected. Following recommendations of the American Association of Museums (AAM), Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), the U.S. State Department conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, and the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States (PCHA), a special effort has been made in the past few years to investigate the World War II-era provenance of European paintings in our collection. This effort has focused on works that were acquired after 1932 and created before 1945, which changed owners during these years, and that were- or could have been- in continental Europe during that time period.
Because the years immediately before and during the World War II were marked by great turmoil and upheaval, many paintings and other works of art that came onto the international market at that time were, in some cases, the result of the Nazi looting of private collections. Though large numbers of seized works were subsequently restituted to their original owners or their heirs, or returned to the country from which they had been confiscated, some continued to appear on the art market, making their way into both public and private collections. The purpose of the Provenance Research Project is to determine whether any objects that entered the Museum’s collection since 1932 could have been seized or stolen by the Nazis and must consequently be restituted to their rightful owners.
This project is undertaken with the caveat that the complete provenance of a given work of art, particularly one pre-dating the advent of the modern art market, is often difficult if not impossible to establish. Records of sale, particularly for paintings or objects that have not changed hands for several generations frequently do not survive. Moreover, many private collectors buy and sell works anonymously through third parties, such as dealers or auction houses, which may or may not disclose the owner’s identity. Finally, many nineteenth and twentieth-century art dealers and auction houses are longer in business. In those cases, records are, at best, incompletely preserved, and at worst lost or destroyed. All these factors contribute to the gaps that commonly occur in a work of art’s provenance. Such gaps do not signal that the work was looted, stolen or in any way obtained improperly, only that the complete ownership history cannot be reconstructed.
The works published in this section of our website have such gaps in their provenance during the period 1933 to 1945. Such gaps in provenance are by no means evidence that these works were obtained improperly, however, and as new information comes to light these records are updated. We publish this list to open our inquiry further and we welcome any information on the provenance of works in our collection that users of this site can provide.
|Date range of ownership
||name of owner or seller, life dates of owner or seller if known (location of owner or seller in parentheses if known), details (if known) of the transaction by which the object passed to its next owner, including information about the particular sale if known (e.g., auction date, place, lot number, sale price)
The left column shows the date range of ownership. Here are a few common date formats:
||The work was in this collection or event occurred during 1955
||The work was in this collection from 1955 to report date
||The work entered this collection in 1955 and left it in 1970.
||The work entered this collection in 1955, but we do not know when it left.
||We do not know when the work entered this collection, but it left in 1955.
|by 1955 -
||The work was in this collection by 1955 but may have entered it earlier.
|- still in 1955
||The work was still in this collection in 1955, and may have left it at a later date.
||An owner name with no date(s) in the left column indicates that we know the work was in this collection, but we do not know precisely when. We do know the work was in this collection between the owners listed above and below it, though there may be other unknown owners in the chain of ownership.