The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Archive of Visual Arts

Provenance Research

Research on provenance, the history of ownership of an art object, is an important part of maintaining a museum collection. Understanding provenance allows insight into the history of specific pieces as well as trends in the art world as a whole. It can also help verify a piece as legitimate or ensure that it has been acquired by honest means.

Of especial research interest to museums are WWII-era objects that have unclear European provenance during the time of the Nazi regime in Germany (1933-1945). This was a tumultuous time and controlling and possessing art was a high priority for Hitler and the Third Reich. Hundreds of thousands of pieces were confiscated or looted, individuals were forced to sell their pieces at low prices in exchange for their lives, or they voluntarily used their pieces of value as bribes for their safety.

At the close of the war, the Allied forces (through the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Commission of the United States Army) worked to find and restore stolen paintings to their original owners or at least country of origins. Though their work was considerable, many works remain missing to this day. Over the years, museums conducting careful provenance research have been able to return countless additional works to their original owners or their families.

Though some of the UAMA’s records are incomplete, that does not necessarily mean that the art was stolen; often it simply means that previous owners kept incomplete records of the works. The UAMA is dedicated to continued provenance research on these pieces in order to establish their origins and ensure the legitimacy of the museum’s title to the work.

The searchable online database of the UAMA’s collection presents provenance information including the history of ownership, publication and exhibition, as far as records allow. If you have questions, concerns, or information about specific works of art, please contact Kristen Schmidt, Registrar.

For more information on Nazi-era provenance and to find a listing of pieces covered by this designation in museums around the country, follow this link to the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal: http://www.nepip.org/

Many thanks to the Kress Collection Provenance Research Project and the National Gallery of Art for their research on the artworks in the UAMA’s Samuel H. Kress Collection.