What is the provenance? The research on the
history of ownership.
Research on the history of ownership, or provenance, of works of art has always
an important part of a curator's work. Museum curators conduct this research to
on the historical, social, and economic context in which a work of art was
collected, as well as on the history of taste.
Art historians have always sought to know the identity of previous owners, but
is often difficult to establish. When a painting has been owned by a family for
there may be no record of sale. Frequently, private collectors prefer to buy and
sell works anonymously through dealers or auction houses, whose records may therefore not disclose the
Moreover, many dealers and auction houses that were active in the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries are no longer in business and their records may have been lost or destroyed.
Thus it is rare to find works of art having a complete history of ownership. It is, therefore, important to
bear in mind that gaps in provenance do not necessarily indicate that a work was looted or stolen
Reconstruction of a complete history of ownership for a given work can be
difficult and sometimes
impossible. Many records of ownership have been destroyed as a result of natural
disasters, man-made disasters such as war, and neglect. Information is sometimes withheld by dealers
and auction houses at the request of previous owners who wish to maintain their anonymity. Much
archival information remains undiscovered or difficult of access.
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