Recently museums have placed an emphasis on researching the provenance (ownership history) of their objects during the years just before and during World War II. During the years 1933–1945, the Nazis conducted the largest confiscation of cultural property known in history. Although many works of art were returned to their original owners after World War II, many entered the art market and new collections. In 1999, the American Association of Museums (AAM) issued their Guidelines Concerning the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects during the Nazi-Era. These guidelines urge museums to review the provenance of works of art in their collection. Museums are focusing on paintings and sculptures made before 1946 and acquired after 1932 that may have been in Europe during those years and/or experienced a change in ownership during that time. By conducting additional research, museums are trying to ensure that they do not house works that were looted by the Nazis and not subsequently returned to original previous owners, their heirs, or the country from which they were taken.
The majority of the Taft Museum of Art’s collection was bequeathed by Charles and Anna Taft in 1931, before the period in question. However, the Taft has accepted a limited number of gifts to its collection since 1932.
In conjunction with the AAM guidelines, the Taft Museum of Art has conducted a critical review of the provenance of works of art in its collection acquired after 1932. The Taft then identified four paintings that were in Europe between 1932 and 1946, or that have gaps in provenance during this time. The inclusion of a painting on the Taft’s list does not signify that it was subject to Nazi looting; it merely identifies it as a work of art with a gap in its history of ownership between 1932 and 1946, or a work that underwent a change of ownership in Europe during those years.
By making this information available to the public, the Taft is working to fulfill its mission of responsible stewardship of its collections, and to participate in the worldwide effort of identifying works of art looted during World War II. The museum will continue to add new information to this list as further research is completed.
If you have information or wish to inquire about any of the works on the Taft’s current list of European artworks acquired after 1932, please email the curatorial department.
To search the AAM’s registry of objects in U.S. museum collections that changed hands in Continental Europe during the Nazi era (1933-1945), visit the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal Project.