Provenance Studies

Pictures in museums can tell many stories. In this tour through the galleries of the Kunsthalle we will be looking at the works in a slightly different way from usual. We’re interested today not so much in the motifs represented here but in their origins and how they’ve come to be in the collection.

Since the Gurlitt case at the latest, provenance research has become an ongoing subject of interest in Germany and to wider circle than just art historians alone. Provenance research asks among other things who owned the work before it arrived in the museum. In which rooms did it once hang, in what auction houses was it offered for sale? Might it have been taken by force from previous owners who were Jewish? In this tour we inquire into the long and often eventful histories that lie hidden behind particular paintings.

It’s only since 1998 that provenance research has been increasingly carried out in German museums: In that year an international conference on Holocaust era assets was held in Washington. The Washington principles which were established as a result amounted to nothing more than a so-called soft law with no legally binding force, but many nations signed up to them nonetheless as a voluntarily undertaken moral commitment.

Since then museums from those countries have been duty bound to identify cultural assets looted by the Nazis and if necessary to make compensation. Namely to the heirs of their former Jewish owners. For some years now many decades after the end of National Socialism and after the expiry of any legal deadlines there has been a systematic revisiting of this difficult chapter of German history in museums libraries and archives. A fairly time consuming undertaking because all too often there are many gaps in the available records.

Rückseite eines Gemäldes. Keilrahmen, Leinwandrückseite und verschiedene Aufkleber, die Auskunft über die Provenienzgeschichte des Bildes geben.

Doctor Tessa Rosenbrock has been researching the provenance of works in the Kunsthalle since 2010. She responds to demands for restitution and pursues her own investigation of the collection in search of works with a problematic previous history. This involves examining the reverse side of a picture following up leads in libraries and archives and publishing the results in lectures, articles and exhibitions. In her work as a provenance researcher she has already found solutions to many difficult cases some of which will be presented over the course of this tour.