Introduction to Provenance Research
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 art object through its owners and locations from its creation until the present day. The Barnes Foundation is committed to documenting the objects in its collection, including information about their provenance. Ascertaining a painting’s provenance can be difficult for many reasons, including gaps in ownership records, accidental disposal of ownership documents, destruction of ownership documentation due to natural disaster or war, and a lack of resources and expertise.
Traditionally, museums undertake provenance research to answer questions about the origins and exchange of art objects, but museums have also focused on provenance in an effort to clarify an object's whereabouts during the Nazi era (1933–1945). There has been increased awareness in recent decades of the issues surrounding works of art that were looted, stolen, or illegally exchanged in Europe during this period. Despite postwar efforts to return art objects to the countries from which they were taken and to the owners or their heirs, many paintings, sculptures, and other objects had entered the international art market during the Nazi era. Some of these objects were acquired in good faith by museums and collectors.
Like other members of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the Barnes Foundation is researching the provenance of objects in its collection to determine past ownership in accordance with AAM standards and guidelines. By making provenance information available to the public, the Barnes Foundation aims to fulfill its mission to responsibly steward the objects in its care.
The Barnes Foundation’s collection includes 4,323 objects, approximately 1,055 of which are paintings or works on paper. Approximately 150 collection items are “covered objects,” as defined by the AAM. Classification of a painting or other collection object as a “covered object” does not imply that the Barnes Foundation acquired the collection item illegally. It merely indicates that the piece was created before 1946 and acquired by the Barnes Foundation after 1932, and that it may have changed ownership in Europe between 1932 and 1946.
The Barnes Foundation welcomes information or inquiries concerning the provenance of its paintings and other collection items. Please direct all provenance inquiries to email@example.com.
American Alliance of Museums
Association of Art Museum Directors
Nazi-Era Provenance Guidelines
Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal
Art Loss Register
International Foundation for Art Research
Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States