Provenance is the history of ownership of works of art. Provenance research contributes to our understanding of the historical, social, and economic contexts that ;inform the production, circulation, and preservation of an individual work of art. It can also shed light on the history of collecting and the formation of taste. This second aspect of provenance research is particularly meaningful for museums like the Walters that reflect the collecting interests of specific individuals. Documenting provenance can also serve as a means of authenticating a work of art and establishing legal ownership of it.
Provenance Research at the Walters Art Museum
Provenance research is a regular, ongoing part of curatorial work at the Walters Art Museum and is essential to documenting the museum's permanent collections. Provenance research is conducted by museum staff, fellows, and interns, and information generated by this work is continually added to individual object records. Although the museum seeks to verify and expand the provenance information associated with individual works of art in its collection, establishing a complete history of ownership can often prove challenging. The museum therefore encourages the sharing of information that might help to clarify the provenance of objects in its collection.
Nazi-Era Provenance Research
This era is defined as the period encompassing the Nazi Party’s rise to power and its defeat (1932-45). In recent years provenance research has assumed particular importance due to increased awareness of the extent of the cultural dislocation caused by the Second World War and the Holocaust. While many works of art confiscated or looted before and during the war were restored to their original owners or countries of origin, others were not and found their way onto the international art market. In recognition of this fact, many museums are researching their collections to determine whether works of art that have entered their collections since 1932 could have been seized or stolen and not subsequently returned.
Following the recommendations of the American Association of Museums (AAM), the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), and the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust-Era Assets, the Walters is actively investigating the Nazi-era provenance of the paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts in its collection. Priority has been given to works of art with unknown, incomplete, or otherwise suspect provenance for the period 1932-1945, particularly works of art in the museum’s collections that changed hands during ;that period ;and were, or could have been, in continental Europe. Beginning in 2004, the Walters began submitting records to the AAM-sponsored Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal (NEPIP). Works of art from the museum’s collections submitted to NEPIP can be found on the AAM portal, www.nepip.org.
The museum is actively researching the Nazi-era provenance of objects in its collection and will increasingly be transferring detailed provenance information from the museum’s object files to the electronic format of the website. This work is ongoing, will be updated periodically, and will continue to be cross-listed with the NEPIP. We welcome new information on works of art in the museum’s collection.