Provenance Research Statement
A core activity of all art museums is the full documentation of the works of art under their stewardship. This documentation includes complete records of exhibition and publication, physical condition, and provenance (ownership history). The goal of provenance research is to trace the history of ownership of a work of art from the time of its creation to the present day. This research can be very complex, presenting multiple challenges to researchers, who are faced with issues including changes in attribution and title, physical alteration, the transitory nature or absence of records, ambiguities of family and corporate histories, societal and political upheaval, natural disaster, and, quite simply, the passage of time. In provenance research, gaps are common; these gaps become particularly problematic when concurrent with troubling historical and social circumstances.
The San Diego Museum of Art has focused its current provenance research on objects in its collection that were acquired after 1932 and created before 1946, that changed ownership between 1932 and 1946, and that were likely to have been in continental Europe between these dates. These dates correspond to the period between the rise to power of the Nazi party in Germany and its fall at the end of World War II. Works meeting these conditions are considered “covered objects,” and are to be published in accordance with the Report of the AAMD Task Force on the Spoliation of Art during the Nazi/World War II Era (1933-1945), issued by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) in June 1998; Guidelines Concerning the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects during the Nazi Era, adopted by the American Association of Museums (AAM) in November 1999; Plunder and Restitution: The U.S. and Holocaust Victims' Assets—Findings and Recommendations of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States and Staff Report (PCHA) issued in January 2001, and amendments by both AAMD and AAM in April and May 2001, respectively.
Since these reports, there has been heightened awareness of the impact of Nazi Germany on the cultural heritage of Europe. From the time the Nazi regime came into power in 1933 through the end of the war in 1945, they systematically looted works of art and other cultural property in Europe on a massive scale. Millions of objects were unethically or unlawfully acquired—often by theft, force, or coercion—from their rightful owners, who included private citizens, victims of the Holocaust, public and private museums and galleries, and religious, educational, and other institutions. Such events as the fall of the Soviet Union and the re-unification of Germany in the early 1990s have made available for the first time significant new information on the Nazi/WWII era; the Internet has made this information accessible in an unprecedented manner.
Paintings in The San Diego Museum of Art that are considered “covered objects” according to the above stipulations may be found on the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal. NEPIP provides a searchable registry of objects in U.S. museum collections that changed hands in Continental Europe during the Nazi era (1933-1945).
Full details regarding the provenance of works in The San Diego Museum of Art will be made available on the Museum’s website in the coming months as part of a “Search the Collection” module that will link to the Museum’s collections database.
For further information on the provenance of the Museum of Art’s collection, please contact:
John Marciari, Ph.D.
Curator of European Art & Head of Provenance Research
The San Diego Museum of Art
P.O. Box 122107
San Diego, CA 92112-2107
For a case study concerning the settlement of a Nazi-era restitution claim on one of the Museum’s paintings, visit the American Association of Museums' website.
For further information, please see the following websites:
- Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal
- American Association of Museums (AAM)
- Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD)
- Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States
- National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
- Art Loss Register
- International Foundation for Art Recovery (IFAR)