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Within the scope of the national research project Museum Acquisitions from 1933 of the Netherlands Museums Association (NMV), Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen investigates its acquisitions between 1933 and 1940 and from 1948 to present. Research into the acquisitions during the years of war and the immediately subsequent years (1940-1948) took place from 1998 to 2001 during the project Museum Acquisitions 1940-1948. The current project should be seen as its follow-up.
The boundaries and criteria of the project Museum Acquisitions from 1933 have been set by the Netherlands Museums Association. Research is carried out into the provenances of all acquisitions from 1933, as that is the year in 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, particularly 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 many years afterwards, art objects from former Jewish property came to the market via art dealers, auctions and individual citizens. Until approximately 1954, art works for which no owners had reported themselves were sold on auctions by the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK) and by its legal successor, the Bureau for Restoration Payments and the Restoration of Property (Hergo). Museums too have - often unwittingly - acquired art works 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 in the period 1954-present is of a less specific nature.
In 2011 and 2012, eight museum employees reconstructed the provenance histories of art works that had been inherited in the period 1933-1940 and 1948-present as thoroughly as possible. Firstly, works were excluded that had been created after 1945, acquired before 1933 or acquired directly from artists or their families. Works 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 investigated extensively from October 1997 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:
• ca. 50,000 works from the Prints collection;
• ca. 1100 works from the Drawings collection;
• 763 works from the Decorative Arts and Design collection;
• 424 works from the Modern and Contemporary Art collection and the City Collection;
• 265 works from the Old Masters collection.
For all partial collections can be said that the provenance histories of the individual art works 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 in the museum library were consulted.
Art works from the Prints, Drawings and Decorative Arts collections often have a scant or even entirely no recognition value: for these works it is difficult to decide whether specific information relates to a specific art work. Hence the research into these areas has been less specific: the efforts have particularly been to trace the primary, direct provenance. For the Modern and Contemporary Art collection, the City Collection and the Old Masters collection - whose art works have a high recognition value - also the indirect provenance histories from 1933 have been reconstructed as thoroughly as possible. However, the museum has not been able to trace the direct provenances of all investigated art works. Currently, external archive research is conducted into these acquisitions.
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 a former owner first possessed the work, or who put the work to auction. However, a work without a complete provenance history is not necessarily suspicious. 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.