Research on the ownership history, or provenance, of works of art is an important part of museum work. This research sheds light on the historical, social, and economic context in which works are created and collected. Following recommendations of the American Association of Museums (AAM), Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), the U.S. State Department conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, and the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States (PCHA), a special effort has been to investigate the World War II-era provenance of European paintings in The Ringling collection. This effort has focused on works that were acquired after 1932 and created before 1945, which changed owners during these years, and that were, or could have been, in continental Europe at that time.
The years immediately before and during the World War II were marked by great turmoil and upheaval, many paintings and other works of art that came onto the international market at that time were, in some cases, the result of the Nazi looting of private collections. Though large numbers of seized works were subsequently restituted to their original owners or their heirs, or returned to the country from which they had been confiscated, some continued to appear on the art market, making their way into both public and private collections. The purpose of the Provenance Research Project is to determine whether any objects that entered the Museum’s collection since 1932 could have been seized or stolen by the Nazis and must consequently be restituted to their rightful owners.
Complete provenance of a given work of art, particularly one pre-dating the advent of the modern art market, is often difficult, if not impossible, to establish. Records of sale, particularly for paintings or objects that have not changed hands for several generations frequently do not survive. Moreover, many private collectors buy and sell works anonymously through third parties, such as dealers or auction houses, which may or may not disclose the owner’s identity. Finally, many nineteenth and twentieth-century art dealers and auction houses are no longer in business. In those cases, records are at best incompletely preserved, if not lost or destroyed. All these factors contribute to the gaps that commonly occur in a work of art’s provenance. Such gaps do not signal that the work was looted, stolen or in any way obtained improperly, only that the complete ownership history cannot be reconstructed.
The works published in this section have gaps in their provenance during the period 1933 to 1945. Such gaps in provenance are by no means evidence that these works were obtained improperly, however, and as new information comes to light, these records are updated. In accordance with the American Association of Museums (AAM) guidelines, we continue to conduct research and update our provenance records. We publish this list to open our inquiry further and welcome any information on the provenance of works in our collection.