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Art trade archives and their accessibility: Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte addresses a special issue of provenance research

Date 2016.05.24

At its col­lo­qui­um “Prove­nance and Col­lec­tion Re­search” last April, the Zen­tralin­sti­tut für Kun­st­geschichte (ZI) in Mu­nich ad­dressed the top­ic of art trade archives and their ac­ces­si­bil­i­ty. Doc­u­ments con­cern­ing the art trade and auc­tion house trans­ac­tions – e.g. busi­ness records, bank state­ments or an­no­tat­ed auc­tion cat­a­logues – are not on­ly im­por­tant source ma­te­ri­als, but al­so play a key role in re­con­struct­ing the ori­gin of an art­work.

"Some in­for­ma­tion, how­ev­er, is con­cealed in pri­vate archives, which, in many cas­es, are prac­ti­cal­ly in­ac­ces­si­ble. But re­cent­ly we’ve been mak­ing progress. We now find our­selves work­ing with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the art trade in a pro­duc­tive clar­i­fi­ca­tion pro­cess with the goal of open­ing oth­er archives to re­search," ex­plained Uwe M. Schneede, chair­man of the Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion, in a lec­ture that he held at the col­lo­qui­um. One such ex­am­ple is a col­lec­tion of an­no­tat­ed cat­a­logues which the Mu­nich-based auc­tion house Hel­bing do­nat­ed to the ZI.

"Ac­cess to the Hel­bing doc­u­ments is the next ma­jor step in the pro­cess of shed­ding light on the con­tro­ver­sial his­to­ry of the art trade dur­ing the Nazi years and is a pos­i­tive sig­nal for the art trade on the whole. One must not lose sight of the fact, how­ev­er, that we have on­ly just be­gun," said Schneede. There is a need to con­duct fur­ther re­search in­to the nu­mer­ous un­cat­a­logued auc­tions or­gan­ised by pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, as well as cas­es when fur­ni­ture and art­works, owned by Jew­ish cit­i­zens, were seized pri­or to their em­i­gra­tion or de­por­ta­tion. The Ot­to von Gu­er­icke Uni­ver­si­ty Magde­burg has de­vel­oped a pi­lot project which aims to in­ves­ti­gate this sub­ject for the first time. The Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion has award­ed the re­search project a three-year grant to fi­nance these mea­sures.

Prof. Dr. Uwe M. Schneede at the colloquium Prof. Dr. Uwe M. Schneede at the colloquium "Provenance and Collection Research" Prof. Dr. Uwe M. Schneede at the colloquium "Provenance and Collection Research" Source:  Susanne Spieler/Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte