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Within the scope of the national research project Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards by the Museums Association, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen conducts research into the acquisitions made between 1933-1940 and 1948-present since 2010. Research into acquisitions made during the war and the years immediately following the war (1940-1948) took place from 1998 to 2001 during the project Museum Acquisitions 1940-1948. The current research should be seen as a follow-up of this project.
After making a first overview of the collection in 2010, the museum began a research into the provenance of artworks that were acquired between 1933-1940 and 1948-present in 2011. The research focused on works that are the property of the Municipality of Rotterdam and managed by the museum, as well as artworks on loan from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Foundation. The first results of the research project were made public in 2013, revealing nine works with a potentially problematic provenance: the paintings 'The Virgin with the Infant Christ Holding an Apple' by the Master of the Magdalen Legend and 'The Lamentation' by Hans Memling, and seven pieces of maiolica from the former Pringsheim collection. The artworks were published on the website of Museum Acquisitions and the museum’s own website.
Provenance research into the acquisitions of 1933-1940 and 1948-present were continued in 2014. Furthermore, the acquisitions made between 1940 and 1948 were reexamined. The results to date, consisting of sixteen works with a potentially problematic provenance, were published in May 2017: three paintings by Honoré Daumier, 'A Bishop Kneeling before Saint Peter' by a follower of Van Dyck, a drawing by Max Liebermann and eleven pieces of maiolica from the former Eugen Gutmann collection.
The museum is currently conducting intensive research into the remainder of the collection, and expects to complete the research project Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards by the end of 2017. Results from this research will be published on the website of the museum and the website of Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards.
The boundaries and criteria of the project Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards have been set by the Museums Association. Research is carried out into the provenance of all acquisitions from 1933 onwards, as that was the year during which the National Socialists came to power in Germany, and when the prosecution of Jews and other population groups and the confiscation of their property began. In an ever more hostile environment, especially Jews felt the need to sell their art collections from 1933 onwards - either to support themselves or to bear the cost of their flight to foreign countries.
Not only during the war, but also in the course of the following years, art objects formerly in Jewish possession came onto the market via art dealers, auctions and private individuals. Until approximately 1954, artworks for which no owners had reported themselves were sold at auctions by the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK) and its legal successor, the Bureau for Restoration Payments and the Restoration of Property (Hergo). Museums too have - often unwittingly - acquired artworks from former Jewish property. The full provenance histories of works that entered the museum collections after 1954 are more difficult to trace. That is why the acquisitions in the periods 1933-1940 and 1948-1954 have priority. The research into the acquisitions made between 1954-present day is of a more global nature.
To carry out the project, the area of research had to be outlined and a selection of works subject to research had to be made. Firstly, works that had been created after 1945, acquired before 1933 or acquired directly from artists or their families were excluded. Art objects that were located in the museum as a loan from the ICN with an inventory number NK were also excluded from the investigation. These objects have already been extensively researched from October 1997 onward by the Ekkart Committee by order of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, in the scope of the project Origins Unknown (final report 2006). The remaining area of research comprised:
The provenance histories of individual artworks from every sub-collection have been investigated thoroughly using information present in the museum: inventory cards and books, acquisition registers, annual reports, object files and the automated collection registration system TMS. In addition, exhibition and file catalogues, artist monographs and other relevant publications were consulted.
Artworks from the Prints, Drawings and Decorative Arts collections often have very little or even no recognition value: for these works it is difficult to determine whether specific information relates to a specific work of art. Hence research into these areas has been more global: the efforts have particularly focused on tracing the direct provenance. For the Modern and Contemporary Art collection, the City Collection and the Old Masters collection – consisting of artworks with a high recognition value – the indirect provenance back to 1933 has been reconstructed as thoroughly as possible.
Within the Modern and Contemporary Art collection, the City Collection and the Old Masters collection, not all the works’ provenance histories could be completed: for example, it is often unknown whether there was another owner between two former owners, when exactly an artwork came into the possession of a former owner, or who consigned it to be sold at auction. However, a work without a complete provenance history is not necessarily problematic. In most cases, the - incomplete, yet reconstructed as thoroughly as possible - provenance history does not give rise to any questions at all. A select group of works with a conspicuous provenance history is further investigated at the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD), the Rotterdam City Archive and several online databases.