Looking into a work of art’s ownership history, its biography, is an integral part of the discipline that is art history. It is one of the important tools of the trade, not only for art dealers but also for museums. Using systematic provenance research, the institutions can compile information on their own inventories in terms of their collections’ histories. With regard to planned gifts, acquisitions and loans, too, it is a way of finding out more about the origin and authorship of a work of art and about whether it is an original, be it a painting, sculpture, print, photograph or any other form of art. Provenance research is at once retrospective and geared towards the future of an institution’s inventories.
In 1998 Museum Folkwang became more active in pursuing provenance research into its extensive inventories. With the establishment of a “Research and Scientific Cooperation” department in 2011 and the inclusion in it of “provenance research” as of 2016, an even greater focus was placed on the history of our inventories by involving the research community and the network of provenance researchers both in Germany and abroad. We plan to regularly publish and make available the findings on individual works, groups of work, artists, dealers and collectors in various formats, including a series of writings, lectures, workshops, panel discussions and symposia.
A particular responsibility
Since the Washington Declaration was adopted in 1998 and a commitment made in 1999 by the German Federal Government, the German states and municipal umbrella organizations to finding and returning cultural heritage that had been looted by the Nazis, German museums have been redoubling their efforts to scientifically investigate their own acquisition policy during the years between 1933 and 1945. The provenance, not only of paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints, but also of craftwork, is being investigated and supplemented if it appears incomplete or dubious.
Since 1998, Museum Folkwang has been conducting proactive provenance research, principally into those works of art which entered the collection between 1935 and 1945 and directly after the War. The guidelines for this research are based on the principles defined by the Washington Conference.