Provenance Research

Provenance Research

The Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen conducts research into the provenance of artworks that were acquired or catalogued from 1933 onwards and whose ownership history is unclear. In accordance with the principles agreed at the Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets that was held in 1998, the Staatsgemäldesammlungen continually inspects its holdings at the Pinakothek museums and affiliated galleries in order to determine whether any of its artworks were unlawfully expropriated from Jewish owners during the period of National Socialism in Germany. Our objective is to compile seamless provenance documentation for each work, wherever possible, so that ownership issues can be clarified more easily.

The Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen has been carrying out systematic provenance research since 1999

The Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen first created a position dedicated to provenance research in 1999, limited to a period of three years. Until 2002, Ilse von zur Mühlen surveyed the museum’s holdings and compiled a catalogue for the 125 works from the former Göring collection, which was published in 2004. In 2008, the museum set up its own department for provenance research to which a full-time conservation specialist was appointed, i.e., the position was made permanent. Since then, Dr. Andrea Bambi has been examining the provenance of artworks that were made before 1945 and acquired by the museum in or after 1933.

The Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen has initiated research into the provenance of 4,400 paintings and 770 sculptures

Included in the examination are the holdings of the three Pinakothek museums, the Schack-Galerie and the twelve affiliated galleries with a total of about 4,400 paintings and 770 sculptures. In the first phase, the provenance of these artworks was assessed to see if there were any ambiguities in the chain of ownership. This turned out to be true in the case of about 1,500 works, whose provenance was either inconclusive or revealed gaps. These works were then categorised according to how they had been acquired. Targeted research into pertinent, overarching topics (transfers from state property, the 19th century, and modern art) is now underway.

The provenance research conducted by the BStGS extends to all three Pinakothek museums and the BStGS’s affiliated galleries

Provenance research basically affects all areas of the museum’s collection except for art that was created after 1945. Focal points of the research are endowments and acquisitions from private collections that occurred after 1945, such as the collections of Fritz Thyssen, Sofie and Emanuel Fohn, Theodor and Woty Werner, Martha and Max Kruss and Günther Franke. There is greater need for research into acquisitions made at this time than for works acquired by the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen between 1933 and 1945. This is because the audit of the collection at the Munich Collecting Point after 1945 concentrated primarily on acquisitions made between 1933 and 1945, and resulted in at least 30 restitutions, for instance, from the collections of Helene Bloch-Bauer and Viau. Since March 2015, Johanna Klapproth has supported Andrea Bambi with research on the subject of art from the High Modernist period. Further areas of focus are the so-called ‘transferrals from state property’ which have been investigated by Florian Wimmer since 2013 until his death in November 2015, Anja Zechel since 2013 and Johannes Gramlich from July 2016 on.The main concern here is art from the collections of Martin Bormann, Heinrich Hoffmann, Eva Braun, Hans Frank etc., which were taken into state custody after 1945.

Contact our provenance researchers

Staff

The Provenance Research Department at the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen has five staff members.

The Provenance Research Dept. employs a total of five people: the director, Dr Andrea Bambi, art historian, full-time position (chief curator post); Dr Johannes Gramlich, historian, full-time position (fixed-term contract from July 2016 to December 2020); Johanna Poltermann M.A., art historian, full-time position (fixed-term contract from March 2015 to December 2020); Dr. Ilse von zur Mühlen, currently attached to the cataloguing section (fixed-term contract from July 2017 to June 2019); Anja Zechel M.A., historian, part-time position (permanent). The chief curator’s post and the part-time position are covered by the department’s budget, i.e., are regular positions. The fixed-term contracts are 75 percent financed by the Ministry and 25 percent by third-party funds.

Restitutions

Since 1998, the BSTGS has restituted thirteen works from nine collections

An overview and further information on prior restitutions are available here. 

Since the Washington Conference Principles were agreed in 1998, the Staatsgemäldesammlungen has returned thirteen artworks to their rightful owners. The works came from the collections of James von Bleichröder, Eduard Behrens, Josef Block, Curt Glaser, Elisabeth Glanville, Julius Kien, August Liebmann Mayer, Max Meirowsky und Ottmar Strauss. The Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen took a proactive approach and, on its own initiative, arranged the restitution of seven works to the descendants of James von Bleichröder, Eduard Behrens, Julius Kien und August Liebmann Mayer.

Research into ongoing restitution claims

The Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen has been researching the art collection of Carl Hagen since 2009. In 2014, the museum commissioned additional research from external experts following repeated claims for restitution. The Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen is clearly committed to resolving these restitution claims and has intensified efforts to clarify the question of ownership and find a just and fair solution as outlined in the Washington Principles.

In the case of Hagen, the claim submitted by the descendants of the prior owner for restitution of the painting The Lemon Slice by Jacob Ochtervelt could not be substantiated as all information available at present confirms that this painting was not appropriated under duress during the Nazi regime. Further information is available here.

In March 2013, the heirs of Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy filed a lawsuit in New York against the Free State of Bavaria over the painting by Picasso titled Madame Soler. The New York court rejected the claim on 27 June 2014. On 25 July, the heirs appealed the decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The New York court rejected the claim finally on 21 March 2016. Most recently the US Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., the supreme constitutional and highest federal court of the United States, refused accepting the decision in January 2016. Please find more information here.

Reports of Findings

The Staatsgemäldesammlungen lists research findings on www.lostart.de

In cases where theft or loss caused by Nazi persecution cannot be completely ruled out, the works are registered on the Lost Art website. The online database is open to the public and provides access to the most up-to-date information on the paintings so that potential owners can come forward with their claims. 174 artworks are currently listed on Lost Art (www.lostart.de). The Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen is committed to fulfilling its obligation to examine its holdings in keeping with the guidelines on the implementation of the Joint Declaration and the Washington Principles (Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art). This number is increasing steadily, demonstrating that the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen takes its responsibility to inspect its collections and to report looted-art very seriously.

Research into the works is ongoing. Our provenance researchers are consulting additional resources in an attempt to fill in gaps in the chain of ownership and fully clarify the origins of the paintings and sculptures.  

Alfred Flechtheim

Until March 2014, fifteen museums and the website www.alfredflechtheim.com will host exhibitions of artworks whose provenance (ownership history) has a connection with the galleries of Alfred Flechtheim. The works on display came to the respective collections via different routes: some were acquired by the museums directly from Alfred Flechtheim—either as acquisitions or gifts from his collection, or through his contacts. Other works were sold by Flechtheim to third parties and only came to the museums later, mostly after 1945, having changed hands several times in the interim.

The gallery owner Alfred Flechtheim (1878–1937) was a major figure in the art scene of the first third of the 20th century. His support of ‘Rhenish expressionism’, the French avant-garde and German modernism as well as his patronage of such luminaries as Max Beckmann, George Grosz and Paul Klee even brought him international recognition during his lifetime. When the Nazis came to power, however, his life and that of his family changed drastically: in October 1933, Flechtheim was forced to flee Germany—as an art dealer of Jewish origins he was publicly denounced and by 1935 his galleries in Düsseldorf and Berlin had been put into liquation or were continued by his former partners. The remnants of his art collection were transferred abroad, mostly to London where he died after an accident in 1937 at just 59 years of age. His wife Betty, awaiting her pending deportation, committed suicide in 1941. The remaining artworks in her Berlin apartment were confiscated and from then on were thought to be lost.

In 2009, Alfred Flechtheim’s heirs announced their suspicion that numerous works that once belonged to Flechtheim in museum collections in Germany and abroad may have been acquired under duress. The first settlement and restitution of artworks were agreed with the family of Alfred Flechtheim (Bonn, Cologne) in 2012 and 2013. Provenance researchers in the museums have continued since then to work together in accordance with the guidelines on the implementation of the ‘Declaration of the Federal Government of Germany, the German Länder and the National Associations of Local Authorities on the tracing and return of Nazi-confiscated cultural assets, especially from Jewish ownership’, signed in 1999 with the aim of expanding the current body of knowledge and answering unresolved questions. This research was the starting point for the exhibition project, which pays tribute to Alfred Flechtheim’s extraordinary impact as a dealer who promoted artists condemned by the Nazis, and commemorates the abrupt end to his career and the related losses that he experienced as well as the tragic fate of his family.

It is not always possible to provide seamless documentation on the provenance of artworks, as important records are often lost due to persecution, war, flight and emigration or cannot be accessed because of privacy rights. Flechtheim’s business records at the Mayor Gallery were destroyed by the German Air force during the London blitz of September 1940, the Royal Air Force bombed the Düsseldorf gallery in 1943 and no known documents have survived from the Berlin gallery. Because of these circumstances, even now 76 years after Alfred Flechtheim’s death and despite years of international research, it has not yet been possible to conclusively reconstruct the chain of ownership of all of his artworks. 

News

Official statement from the Bayerische Staatsgemälde-sammlungen in response to false claims, 28 June 2016
In direct response to the article by Catrin Lorch and Jörg Häntzschel: “Der Münchner Raubkunst-Basar”, printed in the weekend edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 25/26 June 2016

You can download the official statement here.

„Raub von Kulturgut. Der Zugriff des NS-Staats auf jüdischen Kunstbesitz in München und seine Nachgeschichte“
('In the sights of the NS state: the seizure of art in Jewish ownership in Munich 1938/39’)

In January 2015, the City of Munich, the Städtische Galerie at Lenbachhaus, the Jüdisches Museum and the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen initiated a project in cooperation with the chair of contemporary history at Universität Erfurt, Professor Christiane Kuller. Within the framework of the project, contemporary historian Dr Jan Schleusener will investigate the confiscation of artworks that began mid-November 1938 targeting art dealers and other art owners in Munich and the surrounding areas who were Jewish or classed as Jewish according to the racial definitions of the Nazis.

Further information (PDF)

Description of the publication (PDF)

The book will be presented on 30.11.2016, 7:00 p.m. at the Jüdisches Museum Munich.

A closer look at provenance research in AVISO 3/2015

Provenance research and dealing with the consequences of the looting of art by the Nazis is an extremely important part of museum work for Dr Bernhard Maaz, General Director of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen. In this edition of the journal AVISO, Maaz writes: 'This chapter of history can never be fully closed and morally will always preoccupy us, but from the historical aspect we must continue to pursue it with every means at our disposal’. In addition to General Director Maaz’s detailed statement on provenance research, the journal presents ongoing research projects at the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen and other Bavarian institutions such as the Nationalmuseum and the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte. AVISO thus offers a comprehensive introduction to the various initiatives that are being undertaken in Bavaria to clarify the provenance of artworks, to identify looted art and to return stolen paintings and sculptures to the families of the victims.

Link to the online version of AVISO 3/2015 in German as e-paper 

 Alfred Flechtheim – Looted art and restitution

The Provenance Research Department at the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen regularly makes contributions to the wider field of research. The most recent result of this engagement is a publication co-edited by Dr Andrea Bambi on the topic of looted art and restitution, taking the case of Alfred Flechtheim as an example. Until his death in 1937, Flechtheim was one of the most important art dealers of his time. As an outstanding art collector, dealer and patron, he represented some of the foremost masters of early modernist art such as Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso and was later forced into exile by the Nazis. What happened to his pictures is still not fully clear today.

In this collected volume, international scholars from various fields discuss topical questions on the restitution of looted artworks from an interdisciplinary perspective with the aid of case studies.

Schriftenreihe der Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte:
Andrea Bambi/Axel Drecoll (eds.): ‘Alfred Flechtheim. Kunstraub und Restitution’,  
Munich 2015, De Gruyter Oldenbourg Verlag, 303 pages, €24.95

Link to the publisher’s website

Link to a review by Jürgen Lillteicher (in German)