LACMA established the Provenance Research Project in 1999, employing experienced and specialized scholars to conduct research in accordance with the Guidelines of the American Association of Museums (AAM) Concerning the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era.
- Provenance: The History of Ownership
- Research Criteria/Standards/Process
- How to Read Provenance
One of the fundamental responsibilities of a museum curator is tracing the history of ownership—the provenance—of works of art in the collections of the museum. Knowing the geographic, personal, and commercial route followed by works of art provides valuable insight into the history of collecting and taste. Documenting provenance can also serve as a way of authenticating a work of art as well as an important means of establishing legal ownership of it. Ideally, an unbroken chain of ownership can be established from the artist’s workshop, or site at which the work was produced, to the present. In many cases, however, the necessary documentation is missing, producing breaks in the chain. Gaps in the provenance of a work of art are always troubling. Those that occur during between 1933, the date of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, and 1945, the end of World War II, are of particular concern.
LACMA's Provenance Research Project began by examining the museum's collection of paintings produced in Europe prior to 1945. The following steps were taken to establish priorities for researching the collection:
Provenances are given in chronological order, with the earliest known owner listed first and LACMA listed last. A question mark before a name indicates that there is some question, explained in the footnote, about whether the painting was in that collection. Brackets around a name indicate that the individual was a dealer. When known, a collector’s life dates are included in brackets immediately following the name. Dates in parentheses after the city indicate the dates that the painting was known to have been in that collection. When the circumstances of transfer from one collector to another are known, collectors are separated by a semicolon, preceded by words such as "sold," "by inheritance," or "gift," to indicate how the transfer took place. The semicolon is followed by a preposition, generally "to" or "through." "Through" indicates that the painting was consigned to a dealer. When the circumstances of transfer are unknown, the semicolon is replaced by a period mark. Footnotes document the source of information included in the provenance.
Provenance research begins by assembling the information in the museum’s files—acquisition and exhibition records, scholarly references, and correspondence. The information available on each object varies, depending on the date and circumstances of acquisition and past research on the object. The goal is to find specific names and dates that will identify when and from whom each owner acquired the work, and to whom and when each relinquished ownership of it. It is important to document the circumstances of that transfer—sale, inheritance, gift. Exhibition catalogues, which identify the owner at a specific date, sale catalogues, especially those annotated with names of buyers and sellers, collection catalogues, and catalogues raisonnés (monographic books with lists of all the known works of an artist) are important sources of information. Other clues may be found in photo archives and scholarly articles about the artists and/or collectors. Papers and business records of collectors and dealers are very valuable sources of information, but they are often limited by the availability of the records, as well as by the willingness of dealers to reveal their sources. Digging deeper, the researcher may look for wills, insurance inventories, and other personal documentation.
World War II Documentation
When traditional sources have been exhausted, research turns to the millions of pages of documents related to the Holocaust Era Assets, which are housed at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, Maryland. Inventories prepared by the Germans of confiscated collections, records made by the Americans of looted works brought to the Munich Central Collecting Point after the war, formal claims filed by individuals, shipping lists, and detailed and consolidated interrogation reports prepared by the Americans after the war are among the many avenues of research.
Provenance research is necessarily slow and often inconclusive—the documentation may no longer exist or may not be available. Also, the information is often obscure or ambiguous and must be carefully evaluated. Each case is unique and must be considered with particular attention to the circumstances surrounding the gap. Even the most corrupt dealer or Nazi agent might have been a legitimate dealer, scholar, or curator before the war and/or after the war; not all the transactions they conducted—even during the war—were necessarily illegal. The presence of a "tainted" name, such as the notorious art dealer Hans Wenland, therefore, is only a flag, not a condemnation.
One of LACMA’s early Italian paintings on gold ground, Madonna and Child by the Master of the Bargello Judgment of Paris (47.11.1), came to the museum in 1947 as a gift from Robert Lehman, with the information that the painting had been in the Sequestre Wendland. Dr. Hans Wendland, a German national who lived in France, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany after World War I, was a dealer in Switzerland during World War II. Because he is identified by the OSS report as one of the most notorious German collaborators during World War II, the presence of his name in the provenance created concern that the painting might have been looted.
The Sequestre Wendland, however, had nothing to do with World War II. Rather, as a German national living in Paris at the beginning of World War I, Wendland had his collection sequestered by the French government; it was sold in a series of auctions in the early 1920s. LACMA’s painting (called Florentine Master, fifteenth century, and fully described) was lot ten in the sale held October 26, 1921, at the Hôtel Drouot, Paris. The painting was purchased by Philip Lehman, who died in 1947, the same year his son gave the painting to LACMA.
Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
The Office of Strategic Services was responsible for counterintelligence operations. Throughout the war, the OSS compiled dossiers on Nazi agents who might pose a threat after the defeat of the Germans and gathered evidence for future prosecution of war criminals. The OSS was also particularly concerned with tracing and preventing the movement of assets, including art objects, outside Germany, where they could later be used to finance the survival of the Nazi Party. The Art Looting Investigation Unit was established by late November 1944 and staffed by art historians. One of the results of their work was the creation of a list of dealers and scholars whom they found to have been associated in any way with the Germans. The list was compiled by hearsay and interrogation. In some cases the information is inaccurate.
Munich Central Collecting Point 1945–51
The Munich Central Collecting Point, like those at Marburg and Wiesbaden, was established to collect the works of art and other cultural objects confiscated by the Germans, hidden throughout Germany and Austria during the war, and retrieved by the Allies. The Offenbach Archival Depot served a similar purpose for documents. Objects discovered by the Allies at the close of World War II were brought to the collecting points, where they were identified and photographed before being returned to their countries of origin for restitution to their rightful owners. The works of art that passed through the Munich Central Collecting Point originated from museums and private collections throughout Europe. The recovered objects comprised every media, from painting and sculpture to textiles and metalwork. The Munich Central Collecting Point was closed in 1951.
Records of the Munich Central Collecting Point are currently housed in two repositories. NARA retains original textual records, including the inventory card file of all works of art processed through Munich, and photographs of restitution activities at the Collecting Point (Record Group 260). The National Gallery of Art Photographic Archives holds a microfilm copy of the inventory card file and existing negatives of the works of art, on extended loan to the Gallery from NARA. A second microfilm copy of the inventory card file is held by the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.
Provenance Research Project | 5905 Wilshire Blvd | Los Angeles, CA | 90036 | firstname.lastname@example.org
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