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