Provenance research, or the history of ownership of a work of art, is a regular part of museum practice. The goal of provenance research is to trace the history of an artwork through its owners and locations, from the moment of its creation until today. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art conducts regular, ongoing provenance research on the artwork in its collection.
Nazi-Era Provenance Research
In recent years, there has been an increased awareness of the issues surrounding works of art that were stolen, looted, displaced, or illegally exchanged during the Nazi era in Europe (1933-1945). After World War II, Allied Forces recovered thousands of artworks and returned them to the countries from which they were taken for restitution to the owners or their heirs. Nevertheless, many paintings, sculptures, and other objects entered the international art market during the Nazi era. Many of these were acquired in good faith by museums and collectors.
As with other members of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is making a concerted effort to research Nazi-era provenance for the paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, Judaica and works on paper in its collection to determine past ownership and, if necessary, to make proper restitution to the owners or the heirs. Following the standards and guidelines issued by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and AAM, the Museum conducts ongoing research on works of art in its collection as well as research on proposed acquisitions that may have been located in Continental Europe between 1933 and 1945.
In accordance with AAM and AAMD standards and guidelines, the Museum is prioritizing research on European paintings, sculpture, drawings and Judaica, though research will eventually cover all accessioned objects identified as containing Nazi-era provenance.
In an effort to make this information more publicly accessible, this list can be found here and and is regularly updated as the Museum’s research progresses. This list is also published on AAM’s Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal (NEPIP), a central searchable registry of objects in U.S. museums that were created before 1946 and that possibly changed hands in continental Europe between 1933 and 1945, which was last updated in 2017.
It is important to note that objects identified as containing a Nazi-era provenance are not assumed to have been looted during the Nazi era or to have been acquired illegally. Rather, by making this information available to the public, the Nelson-Atkins provides an opportunity for additional information to be made available and fulfills its mission to steward responsibly the collections in its care.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) grew out of dialogue between Indian leaders and the museum community, and it reflects a consensus of opinions on issues of mutual concern. Conscientious implementation of NAGPRA recognizes the importance of aiming at mutually respectful relations between the museum community and Native Americans.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (NAMA) is fully committed to the fair and impartial application of NAGPRA to NAMA collections, and has made proactive implementation of the law a priority. The NAMA NAGPRA program is based upon the philosophy that partnership with Native American communities enhances our ability to manage our extensive collections in a manner that is mutually beneficial to Indian people, the general public, and to the continuity of our mission as a museum.
Repatriation claims under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act will be considered on a case-by-case basis. In considering the request, the authority of the tribe to make the request and the merit of the request will be considered by the Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs, the Director/CEO, and the Trustee Members of the Committee on Collections.
For inquiries and questions, please contact Jennifer Byers, Assistant to the Deputy Director/Curatorial Assistant at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, MO 64111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is repatriation?
Repatriation is the process whereby certain types of Native American cultural items are returned to lineal descendants, culturally affiliated Indian tribes, Alaska Native villages and corporations, and Native Hawaiian organizations. Human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony are legally defined categories of items that may be considered for repatriation.
Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art
The Museum follows applicable laws and AAM and AAMD guidelines and standards regarding museums and the provenance of archaeological materials and ancient art.
The Museum recognizes the importance of protecting and preserving archaeological sites and deplores the illicit excavation, looting, and theft of archaeological materials and ancient art. The Museum will use the November 17, 1970 adoption date of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, as a threshold date to evaluate the provenance of acquisitions of archaeological material and works of ancient art created in antiquity.
The Museum recognizes that even after extensive research, a complete recent ownership history may not be obtainable for all archaeological material and ancient art. The Museum believes that it should have the right to make informed and defensible decisions regarding the appropriateness of acquiring such works, based upon factors such as research, exhibition, publication and the likelihood of whether a work has been outside of its country of modern discovery prior to 1970.
How to Read Provenance Information
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art uses a variation of the format suggested by The AAM Guide to Provenance Research (Washington, D.C., 2001). Provenance is listed in chronological order, beginning with the earliest known owner. Methods of transactions and relationships between owners, if known, are indicated at the beginning of each line. The term “With” precedes a dealer’s name to indicate their commercial status when the method of their acquisition is unknown. Life dates for private collectors are included in parentheses and dates of ownership, when known, are indicated at the end of each line. Uncertain information is preceded by the terms “possibly” or “probably.” Footnotes are used to document or clarify information.
The Nelson-Atkins welcomes any information that might help to clarify the provenance history of artwork in its collection. For inquiries and questions, please contact the Museum at email@example.com or Curatorial Division, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, MO 64111.
*Though the Museum did not open to the public until 1933, acquisitions for the collection began in 1930.