About the Project
During the violent turmoil of World War II and the Holocaust, hundreds of thousands of art works entered the international art market, sometimes illegally, as the result of Nazi looting of private collections, or through other illicit transactions. Despite efforts by the Allied forces to restore, or restitute, looted or stolen items to their rightful owners immediately after the war, many works of art passed into the hands of dealers and entered collections and museums worldwide. Museums today have an obligation to undertake WW II-era provenance research in order to guarantee that they have clear title to the works of art in their possession. In doing so, American museums acknowledge the Washington Principles, endorsed by 44 nations in 1998, which presented best practices for publicizing provenance research, as well as best practices for resolving issues related to Nazi-confiscated art, should they arise.
At the IMA, systematic provenance research began in 2003. In order to fulfill the IMA’s responsibility to make the resulting information available to the public, images and documentation are added regularly to the DATABASE section of this website. In the event that a legitimate claimant of a work of art should come forward, the IMA is committed to resolving the matter in an appropriate and equitable manner.
In addition to posting provenance research on its own website, the IMA is a contributor to the AAM’s (American Alliance of Museums) Nazi-era Provenance Internet Portal (NEPIP) established in 2003. Works being considered for acquisition are also submitted to the Art Loss Register (ALR), an international database that maintains a record of stolen works of art. In 2009, the IMA built an Object Registry for the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) devoted to the Resolution of Claims for Nazi-Era Cultural Assets.This registry provides information of the resolution of formal claims made to AAMD member museums regarding works of art believed to have been stolen by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945 and lists objects restituted and settlements made since June 1998, the date the Report of the AAMD Task Force on the Spoliation of Art during the Nazi/World War II Era (1933-1945) was adopted.
Obtaining a complete provenance for a work of art from the time of its creation to the time it entered a museum is a time-consuming and challenging task. Investigation into a painting’s history of ownership includes physical examination of the work in question (particularly important are labels and inscriptions on the back of the painting), consultation of object files and museum archives, auction and exhibition catalogues, monographs, publications on the activities of dealers and collectors, internet databases, dealer records, photographic and other archives, as well as correspondence with specialized scholars. Unlike title records kept on parcels of real estate, no centralized records exist for works of art. In fact, missing details about a change in ownership of works of art (including the date and location of the transfer) are not uncommon. Sometimes works of art were bought and/or sold anonymously, or dealers who were active during and immediately after WWII no longer exist. In some cases dealers who collaborated in the looting had legitimate businesses prior to the Nazi era; in other cases the records of dealers or auction houses may be incomplete, or were lost or destroyed in the intervening years. It is important to remember that a gap in a painting’s provenance during the Nazi era does not automatically mean that a work of art was looted or stolen. It does, however, indicate that additional research is warranted.