Provenance research, or the history of ownership of a work of art, is a regular part of museum practice. The goal of provenance research is to trace the history of an artwork through its owners and locations, from the moment of its creation until today. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art conducts regular, ongoing provenance research on the artwork in its collection.
Nazi-Era Provenance Research
In recent years, there has been an increased awareness of the issues surrounding works of art that were stolen, looted, displaced, or illegally exchanged during the Nazi era in Europe (1933-1945). After World War II, Allied Forces recovered thousands of artworks and returned them to the countries from which they were taken for restitution to the owners or their heirs. Nevertheless, many paintings, sculptures, and other objects entered the international art market during the Nazi era. Many of these were acquired in good faith by museums and collectors.
As with other members of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is making a concerted effort to research Nazi-era provenance for the paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, Judaica and works on paper in its collection to determine past ownership and, if necessary, to make proper restitution to the owners or the heirs. Following the standards and guidelines issued by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and AAM, the Museum is currently conducting research on works of art in its collection that were created before 1946 and acquired by the Museum after 1932* that changed hands, or might have changed hands, in continental Europe between 1933 and 1945, and/or could have been spoliated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted to their rightful owners. In accordance with AAM and AAMD standards and guidelines, the Museum is prioritizing research on European paintings, sculpture, drawings and Judaica, though research will eventually cover all accessioned objects identified as containing Nazi-era provenance.
In an effort to make this information more publicly accessible, this list can be found here and is also published on AAM’s Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal (NEPIP). NEPIP provides a central searchable registry of objects in U.S. museums that were created before 1946 and that possibly changed hands in continental Europe between 1933 and 1945.
It is important to note that objects identified as containing a Nazi-era provenance are not assumed to have been looted during the Nazi era or to have been acquired illegally. Rather, by making this information available to the public, the Nelson-Atkins provides an opportunity for additional information to be made available and fulfills its mission to steward responsibly the collections in its care.
How to Read Provenance Information
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art uses a variation of the format suggested by The AAM Guide to Provenance Research (Washington, D.C., 2001). Provenance is listed in chronological order, beginning with the earliest known owner. Methods of transactions and relationships between owners, if known, are indicated at the beginning of each line. The term “With” precedes a dealer’s name to indicate their commercial status when the method of their acquisition is unknown. Life dates for private collectors are included in parentheses and dates of ownership, when known, are indicated at the end of each line. Uncertain information is preceded by the terms “possibly” or “probably.” Footnotes are used to document or clarify information.
The Nelson-Atkins welcomes any information that might help to clarify the provenance history of artwork in its collection. For inquiries and questions, please contact the Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org or Curatorial Division, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, MO 64111.
*Though the Museum did not open to the public until 1933, acquisitions for the collection began in 1930.