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 been
an important part of a curator's work. Museum
curators conduct this research to shed light
on the historical, social, and economic context in
which a work of art was created and
collected, as well as on the history of taste.
Art historians have always sought to know the
identity of previous owners, but such information is
often difficult to establish. When a painting has
been owned by a family for several generations 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 true owner.
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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