Provenance is the chronology of an object, including history of ownership, custody, and location. In art, establishing provenance helps to authenticate objects and identify the social, historical, and economic context in which a work of art was created and collected. For looted or contested art, it can reveal the validity of ownership.
AGSA undertakes thorough, ongoing research to establish the provenance of works of art in its collection. For many works of art, and for older works in particular, information is not always available due to private or anonymous sales and transfers, destruction or loss of records, or insufficient descriptive detail in surviving records.
The following collection areas include works under research because of incomplete provenance for the mentioned periods. Incomplete provenance does not indicate that a work was looted or stolen, only that its complete ownership history cannot be reconstructed today. AGSA welcomes further information on the provenance of works in its collection.
The Asian Art Department is researching the provenance of works in the collection from Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Middle East which lack complete documentation. These include wooden and stone sculptures as well as paintings. The research specifically focuses on works without records for their transit from their place of production into foreign collections, before AGSA acquired them. This is especially important for works that are believed to have left their country of origin during the last three decades of the twentieth century.
AGSA’s policy has been to avoid the acquisition of major early historical works of art from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia and south India due to widespread uncertainty over the legitimacy of the provenance of art objects from those regions.
The period of the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945 represents a particularly problematic area for provenance research of works of art from Europe. During this time, Jewish collections were systematically looted, confiscated, or sold under duress. AGSA is committed to assisting in the identification of objects unlawfully appropriated in Germany and other Nazi-controlled areas during this period. The Gallery seeks to clarify the provenance of works of art acquired after 1932 and created before 1945 which were or could have been in Europe at that time.