Provenance Research at the Cincinnati Art Museum

The history of ownership, or provenance, of a work of art represents one aspect of a complete catalogue record for any object entering a museum’s permanent collection. In general, provenance research assists in the evaluation of the history of taste and the study of collecting practices throughout the centuries. Ideally the provenance would document an object’s whereabouts from its maker to its present day owner, including all former owners, locations, and sale transactions. However, it is quite common for an object’s provenance to have gaps, or periods of time where the provenance information is not known. Lack of information can result from any number of reasons; for example, a previous owner may have desired to be anonymous, or records were never kept.

Please feel free to contact us at [email protected], should you have any questions or comments. We hope that the public and other scholars will assist us with this research by providing other documentation pertaining to the history of these works of art. Visit the Mary R. Schiff Library & Archives page for hours and additional information.

Provenance Research Resources

During the years 1933-1945, the Nazis conducted the largest confiscation of cultural property known in history. Although a large amount of works were restored, or restituted, to their original owners after World War II, many of the works entered the art market and eventually new collections. Recently, museums have placed an emphasis on researching the provenance of their objects acquired during the years just before and during World War II to ensure that they do not house works that were looted by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted to original previous owners, their heirs, or the country from which they were taken. In 1999, the American Association of Museums issued their Guidelines Concerning the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects during the Nazi-Era. Amended in 2001, these guidelines require museums to review the provenance of works of art in their collection that may have been looted during the Nazi/World War II era, specifically European paintings and objects of Judaica made before 1946 and acquired after 1932 that could have been in Europe during those years and/or experienced a change in ownership during that time.

Criteria & Selection

In conjunction with these guidelines, the Cincinnati Art Museum began a critical review of the provenance of its European paintings. The Cincinnati Art Museum has 243 European paintings in its collection that were created before 1946 and acquired after 1932. Of these, 143 have been identified as having an incomplete provenance between 1932 and 1946. An additional 6 paintings have fully documented ownership histories during the Nazi-era, but underwent a change of ownership in continental Europe during that time. The research presented here includes detailed provenance entries on these 149 European paintings. The inclusion of a painting on the following list does not signify that it was subject to Nazi looting; it merely identifies it as a work of art with a gap in its history of ownership between 1932 and 1946, or which underwent a change of ownership in continental Europe during those years. The Cincinnati Art Museum's curatorial staff is dedicated to this project and is in the process of reviewing all existing documents pertaining to the history of ownership of these works in the museum's curatorial files, collector files, library, and archives. Outside archival resources, libraries, and the Internet, are also being utilized in this effort. Please note that provenance research is a long, time-consuming process, and the entries presented here will be updated as new information becomes available.

Akinsha, Konstantin and Grigorii Kozlov. Beautiful Loot: The Soviet Plunder of Europe's Art Treasures. New York: Random House, 1995.

Barron, Stephanie. "Degenerate Art": The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany. exh. cat. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991.

Farmer, Walter I. The Safekeepers: A Memoir of the Arts at the End of World War II. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2000.

Feliciano, Hector. The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World's Greatest Works of Art. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

Kurtz, Michael J. Nazi Contraband: American Policy on the Return of European Cultural Treasures, 1945-1955. New York: Garland, 1985.

Nicholas, Lynn H. The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Petropoulos, Jonathan. Art as Politics in the Third Reich. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Petropoulos, Jonathan. The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Simpson, Elizabeth, ed. The Spoils of War: World War II and Its Aftermath. The Loss, Reappearance, and Recovery of Cultural Property. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997.

Trienens, Howard J. Landscape with Smokestacks: The Case of the Allegedly Plundered Degas. Evanstan, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2000.

Yeide, Nancy H., Konstantin Akinsha, and Amy L. Walsh. The AAM Guide to Provenance Research. Washington: American Association of Museums, 2001.

Accession Number
The identification number assigned to a work of art when it enters a museum's permanent collection. The Cincinnati Art Museum uses the calendar year that an object enters the collection and its sequence of arrival into the collection. For example, the first work accessioned during the year 2002 would be assigned the number 2002.1.

Attribution
The identification of an artist as the possible maker of a work of art.

Bequest
To give or leave by will.

Given with life interest
Objects given to a museum by a private owner, but which remained with the owner until his or her death. This gift giving option is no longer practiced, but was common in the early twentieth century.

Footnote
A note of reference, explanation, or comment placed below the text on a printed page.

Loot
Goods or articles of considerable value taken in times of war.

Nazi-era
The National Socialist German Worker's Party was founded on fascist principles in 1919 and headed by Adolf Hitler from 1921. The term "Nazi-era" refers to the period of 1933-1945 when this party was in power in Germany.

Provenance
The history of ownership of a work of art from its creation to the present day, including all private collectors, museums, dealers, auction houses, etc.

Restitution
To restore something its rightful owner.