Nazi-Era Provenance Research Project
Like many museums across the country, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is participating in the nationwide effort to identify works of art that may have been illegally confiscated from their rightful owners by the Nazi regime during World War II. Committed to the responsible stewardship of its collection, the Brooks Museum is conducting in-depth provenance research on a number of paintings in the permanent collection, in compliance with the guidelines issued by the American Association of Museums in 1999 and 2001.
This ongoing project, which began in 2002, focuses on all European paintings in the permanent collection that transferred ownership or have gaps in their provenance, or history of ownership, during 1933 to 1945. During the past two years, a number of the museum’s paintings have been researched and their provenance has been established, while others continue to be investigated.
However, we cannot conclude that a work of art was looted or appropriated by the Nazis simply because it has incomplete or unverified information in its provenance and is included in our survey. The provenance gap only highlights the need for further documentary evidence to clarify the history of ownership. Many times these gaps are simply the result of lost or destroyed gallery records or requested anonymity of a past owner. The provenance of many of these paintings may never be fully resolved, but with the recent declassification of documents and the broad range of databases, catalogues, and images available on the Internet from libraries, museums, and research centers worldwide, the chance for success is much greater than ever before.
Click here to see a list of paintings from the Brooks Museum’s permanent collection that are currently undergoing research due to lapses in provenance. In allowing public access to this information, we join with the international art museum community in the diligent search for items seized or looted during the Nazi era. If you have any inquiries or information about these items, please contact the museum at [email protected].
The American Association of Museums has developed a Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal which provides a searchable registry of objects in United States museum collections that fit the criteria discussed above.