This article gives a brief overview of provenance research and its specific history as linked to the German looting of fine art from Jewish families and others from regions they occupied during WWII. The article goes on to describe international agreements made to address the research into artworks held in museum collections that date from the Nazi-era, but do not have clearly documented provenance.
Finally, the article describes current efforts to continue to advance provenance research through the German-American Provenance Research Exchange Program (PREP) and shares about opportunities for scholars to apply to attend workshops.
Provenance research has always been plagued by difficult access to information, but we may be at a turning point. More institutions are digitizing their archival records and making them available online. More provenance researchers are sharing their once closely held knowledge. More information is being made accessible about artworks looted in the Nazi era, enabling more artworks to be identified and restituted. And programs such as PREP are building research skills and resources throughout the museum field.
Like the stories depicted in them, works of art have stories of their own. These stories-of how an art object travels, is bought and sold, and physically changes over time-are called its provenance. In the art world, the word provenance is sometimes weighted with anxiety and even anger.