Detektivarbeit im Gemäldedepot - Der Reisepass eines Gemäldes

Berichte aus dem LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn 1/2012 22 November 2012

To read the article by Magdalene Chwalek in the original German, click here.

The article concerns provenance research at the LVR-Landesmuseum Bonn (LVR = Landschaftsverband Rheinland, the ‘Rhineland Regional Association’). The Landesmuseum has a collection of c 1,000 paintings, three quarters of which are proven to have been acquired legally. The provenance of the remaining approximately 225 works is being investigated.

The Museum’s provenance research project began in 2010. There is an introduction about the principles of provenance research, in particular relating to the 1933-1945 period, and important developments in the field, such as the 1998 Washington Principles. It is stated that the Museum realises the importance of having an active provenance research programme and not merely waiting for restitution claims before beginning research. The importance of a fair and just solution is mentioned, and it is suggested that in cases where there are no longer any living legal heirs, such a solution could be the recognition of the painting's history and the fate of its rightful owners, for example with a plaque next to the painting.

The article then gives an account of the steps in provenance research from a museum's perspective, beginning with looking at the reverse of a work for any clues, and then looking for information in the inventory. In the case of the LVR-Landesmuseum Bonn, full accounts of the painting from the first written record of the painting’s acquisition are kept in the LVR-Archiv in Pulheim-Brauweiler. The use of exhibition catalogues to trace sales of the painting is also discussed.

The article also mentions problems faced in provenance research, such as when a gallery acquired a painting before 1945 and important records were misplaced or destroyed during the war period. 

The importance of exchange with colleagues and archives in other countries is stressed.

In the last part of the article, more information is given on the Landesmuseum’s work. They have created a ‘virtual file’ for each painting which is being researched, which holds all the relevant information on the painting. The initial information held there (i.e. descriptions of the work, artist, date, dimensions and material) provides a basis which is constantly being expanded with new information. The virtual files, therefore, always contain the current status of research on the painting. Information which was previously only held in paper form is now digitised and can be accessed immediately, and, thanks to this system, research on some paintings has progressed substantially: the gaps in the information are more apparent and the search for further information can be carried out more methodically.

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