Provenance is the historical ownership of an artwork, beginning with its creator and extending to the present day. Information about provenance can come from a wide variety of sources, including collection inventories, numbers and stamps on the artworks themselves, auction sale catalogues, and historical descriptions. Provenance can help art historians better understand an object’s path through time, its uses and functions, and its cultural context. In some cases, provenance research can also help reveal when an object changed ownership due to theft or plunder.
The period between Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and the end of World War II (1933–1945) is given special consideration in provenance research. Under Nazi rule, hundreds of thousands of art objects were taken from their rightful owners through confiscation, destruction, and coerced sale. Many objects have yet to be recovered, making provenance research for this period especially important. The Kemper Art Museum is dedicated to researching objects in its collection whose ownership history is unconfirmed during this period. In 1998 the Washington Principles—a set of eleven principles to guide research and restitution—were published, signifying a renewed international interest in accounting for lost and stolen artworks. These principles, and many other Nazi-era provenance research resources, are linked below.
The Museum is actively researching the provenance of its collections both to gain a deeper understanding of our collection’s history and to ensure that the Museum follows ethical collecting practices. Provenance research is a gradual and ongoing process, and a complete provenance is not always possible due to missing information or documentation. We will continuously update our website with detailed provenance histories as our research progresses.
If you have provenance-related inquiries or information, please contact Kim Broker, registrar for collections, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also invite you to explore the provenance resources below, including the Nazi-era Provenance Internet Portal.