The Provenance Research Project on the Nazi/World War II era
Research on provenance (the history of an artwork’s ownership) is an ongoing function of curatorial research at the Cleveland Museum of Art. In short, we try to trace the history of a work of art from the moment it was made until it comes into our collection. Frequently, it is impossible to document a complete provenance, as there are many reasons we may not be able to account for every episode in the history of a work of art. A common challenge is that, traditionally, provenance records have often reflected an owner or former owner's wish for anonymity. Additionally, the ephemeral nature of historical records, which are often lost or destroyed over time, can further confound research. Despite these challenges, we have tried to provide complete information based on the resources available.
A number of historical factors affect the nature of this research, and a number of varied sources, including correspondence, invoices, and shipping documents, drawn from a wide range of reference materials, assist the researcher in determining provenance. We consult all these materials in order to create the most complete provenance we can.
In response to the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) guidelines issued in June 1998, the paintings department of the Cleveland Museum of Art embarked upon a major research project to investigate in depth the provenance of paintings that might relate to Nazi-era art looting during the period 1933—1945. Research of museum materials including curatorial and registrarial files, as well as national and international libraries and archives, began almost immediately, and remains an ongoing priority of the paintings department. Subsequent to that effort, the museum reviewed its holdings of sculpture in a similar manner.
We have no reason to believe any of these works have serious provenance problems. Provenance research findings posted here are limited to the 373 works of art in our European paintings collection and the 86 in our sculpture collection that either have gaps in their provenance or that were known to have been confiscated by the Nazis during their time of power. Gaps in provenance reflect the current state of research and do not indicate that a work of art was involved in the Nazis’ systematic art plunder. Rather, in any instance where fully documented information is not available for this period (thus creating a gap in provenance), the work of art has been included on the list. Color images of works are provided as available.
Due to the nature of this research, it is a continuous and ongoing task. This list will be updated on a regular basis to reflect our findings. Should you have any questions or information relating to these provenances, please contact the museum at ProvenanceResearch [at] clevelandart [dot] org.
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Phase one of the research was limited to European paintings. To maximize the capabilities of the research staff, and to focus on areas most likely to be problematic, selection was limited to European paintings produced before 1945. From these 615 European paintings, 260 were excluded because they were found to meet one of the following criteria: a) acquired by the museum before 1933 or b) geographically located in the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom, without exception, during the period 1933–1945. Phase two examined the sculpture collection produced before 1945. Of the 268 objects, 182 were excluded because they were either acquired by the museum before 1933 or were geographically located in the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom, without exception, during the period 1933–1945.
Accession numbers reflect the year an object was acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art. In most cases, the year is indicated by the four digits before the decimal point (example: 1942.641). In a few exceptions, the date comes after the decimal (example: 194.1939).
Included on the list are works of art from the museum’s collection known to have been confiscated by the Nazis. The record of their confiscation was uncovered after research of the Munich Collecting Point Archives (the Allied postwar art clearinghouse depot). Photographs and microfiche of the Munich Collecting Point records are stored at the National Gallery of Art, Photographic Archives, Washington, D.C.
The Period 1933-1945, the Nazi/World War II era
The period of provenance research, in keeping with current standards, is 1933-1945, the complete period of Nazi rule. This defined period of time is somewhat misleading, however, as art confiscations did not begin immediately with Hitler’s ascension to power. The more programmatic confiscations began later than 1933, with the establishment of the ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg), Hitler’s official art-looting agency.
Settlement Related to Allegory of the Christian Faith by Johann Liss
In April 2013, The Cleveland Museum of Art entered into a settlement with the heirs of Dr. Arthur Feldmann with respect to a drawing by Johann Liss entitled Allegory of the Christian Faith. The drawing remains at the Museum. Dr. Feldmann, an attorney in Brno, Czech Republic, accumulated a significant collection of drawings. In 1939, shortly after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Germany, the contents of Dr. Feldmann’s home, including his drawings collection, were seized. Dr. Feldmann was arrested, tortured and died in 1941. Mrs. Feldmann was deported to Theresienstadt and later perished at Auschwitz.
The drawing is known to be in Dr. Feldmann’s collection as early as 1929, when it was seen by Dr. Otto Benesch and noted as in the collection of Dr. Arthur Feldmann. Dr. Benesch published the work in a 1933 article, Beschreibender Katalog, Die Zeichnungen der Deutschen Schulen, indicating its provenance as “Feldmann Collection.” The drawing was published again in 1940 by Kurt Steinbart in Johann Liss der Maler aus Holstein (and in a subsequent revised edition under the same title published in 1946), but the ownership, in both additions, was attributed to Dr. O. Feldmann (one of Dr. Arthur Feldmann’s two sons). Dr. Benesch again published the work in 1951 in an article Liss’s ‘Temptation of St Anthony’, indicating its provenance as formerly in the collection of Dr. A. Feldmann. The Museum acquired the drawing in 1953 from a London dealer, Herbert Bier, whose records indicate he acquired the work that same year from R.A. Newton.
Mr. Uri Peled, Dr. Feldmann’s grandson, said on behalf of Dr Feldmann's heirs, “I would like to express our delight that this drawing is remaining in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art. We are sure that our grandfather would have wanted the drawing to be available to the public and for future research”.
The following books are available at the Ingalls Library:
Alford, Kenneth D. The Spoils of World War II: The American Military’s Role in the Stealing of Europe’s Treasures. New York: Birch Lane Press, 1994. D810/A7 A37 1994
Farmer, Walter I. The Safekeepers: A Memoir of the Arts at the End of World War II; revised and prefaced by Klaus Goldmann; with an introduction by Margaret Farmer Planton. Berlin; New York: W. de Gruyter, 2000. N9165 .G3 F37 2000
Feliciano, Hector. The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World’s Greatest Works of Art. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 1997. N8795.3 /F8 F4613 1997
Grimsted, Patricia Kennedy, ed. Returned from Russia: Nazi Archival Plunder in Western Europe and Recent Restitution Issues. Builth Wells, Great Britain: Institute of Art and Law, 2007. D810 .C8 U56 2000
Howe Jr., Thomas Carr. Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1946. D810 .A7 H6 1946
Müller, Melissa. Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice. New York: Vendome Press, 2010. N8795.3 .E85 M8513 2010
Nicholas, Lynn. The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. N8795.3 .E85 N53 1994
Yeide, Nancy H. Beyond the Dreams of Avarice: The Hermann Goering Collection. Dallas, TX: Laurel Publishing, 2009. N5267 .G67 Y45 2009
Complete cataloguing information on the museum’s 19th-century European painting collection can be found in European Paintings of the 19th Century in the Collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, vol. I and II. Louise d'Argencourt (ed.) with Roger Diederen. Cleveland: The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1999. CMA REF N552 .A556 1974 pt. 4, v.1-2
Association of Art Museum Directors website and press releases.
The American Association of Museums website contains their guidelines concerning the unlawful appropriation of objects during the Nazi era.
Designed and managed by AAM on behalf of the U.S. museum community, the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal provides a searchable registry of objects in U.S. museum collections that were created before 1946 and changed hands in Continental Europe during the Nazi era (1933-1945).
The Project for the Documentation of Wartime Cultural Losses reproduces many important documents and photographs, including installation shots of the Jeu de Paume (where looted art was gathered and exhibited) and the Art Looting Investigation Unit Final Report.
The official website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum includes a special Holocaust-Era Assets section.
The Provenance Research Project of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website, which includes a provenance gap list.
The German government’s list of more than 2,200 looted artworks.
Website of the National Archives of the United States.
Website of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States.
Website of the International Foundation of Art Research (IFAR), a not-for-profit educational and research organization. A major component of their work concerns itself with art theft and ownership.