Since its inception in the nineteenth century, the Brooklyn Museum has been committed to documenting the objects in its holdings, including information about the provenance, or history of ownership, of these objects. Traditionally, scholars have viewed provenance as a tool to answer questions about the origins, display, and exchange of an artwork. More recently, however, museums have focused on provenance in an effort to clarify an object's whereabouts during the Nazi era (1933–1945), when some artworks were looted or stolen. In accordance with the guidelines issued by the American Association of Museums (AAM) in November 1999 and April 2001, which specifically address the issue of Nazi-era provenance, the Museum has instituted a program to identify artworks in its collection that fit the following conditions:
- works created before 1946 and acquired by the Museum after 1932;
- works that changed ownership between 1932 and 1946; and
- works that were or might reasonably be thought to have been in continental Europe between 1932 and 1946.
The Museum is using the above criteria to identify objects that existed prior to 1946 but were not in its collections by 1932, and therefore may have changed hands during this time. Two separate and unrelated collections have been examined using these guidelines: European oil and tempera paintings and Jewish ritual objects. A gap in provenance does not mean that these objects were looted or stolen. It is not always possible to document provenance completely. Some owners prefer to remain anonymous, and records are sometimes accidentally lost or destroyed. However, the Museum does hope to establish the most complete history possible for all of the objects in its collection.
The Brooklyn Museum's list of objects with gaps in provenance is available on the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal (NEPIP) administered by the AAM. That Web site provides a searchable registry of objects that changed hands in continental Europe during the Nazi era and are now in the collections of U.S. museums.
The Brooklyn Museum's Provenance Research Project is ongoing and will continue until all possible avenues of research have been exhausted.
The Museum invites anyone with questions or information about the works it has posted on the AAM'S NEPIP site to e-mail the Provenance Research Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related Websites and Resources
American Association of Museums, Guidelines Concerning the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era
The Art Loss Register
Association of Art Museum Directors, Report of the AAMD Task Force on the Spoliation of Art during the Nazi/World War II Era (1933–1945)
Catalogue des Musées Nationaux Récupération, France
Central Registry of Information on Looted Cultural Property, 1933–1945
Commission for Looted Art in Europe
Czech Republic, Art Restitution
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Art Theft Program
Getty Provenance Index
Holocaust-Era Assets: Records and Research at the National Archives and Records Administration
International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR)
Interpol, Stolen Works of Art
Lost Art Internet Database
Museum Security Network
Netherlands, Unclaimed Art
Poland, Wartime Losses
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Restitution Resources