The Values of Provenance, Session, 5th Swiss Congress for Art History, Zurich, 22-24 June 2022

Events and Conferences

Provenance information can significantly increase or diminish an artwork’s intrinsic and monetary value. While a “good” or “interesting” provenance is prone to be explored and advertised, “uninteresting” or “contaminated” provenances are often ignored or even suppressed. Such selective approaches to provenance information, today perceived as arbitrary, not only pertain to the art market, they are also known from public and private collecting.

What is more, the relative weight given to provenance information has in itself been subject to momentous revaluations in the course of time. While some periods tended to marginalize its significance, others generally stressed the importance of provenance information. Ideological currents and historic developments not only drive the physical migration of cultural property, they also convey sweeping positive or negative connotations to the resulting object histories – connotations which may in themselves be subject to later revisions.

The approach of the market and art collectors to provenance information is clearly affected by such tectonic shifts. Until the end of the twentieth century, for instance, provenance information and research was a marginal affair. Today, however, discussions over cultural property looted by the Nazis or from colonial territories have brought this category to the fore. This session seeks to explore and illustrate the changes in the status of provenance information, not only in recent decades, but also in earlier times. It welcomes both surveys and case studies which might for example touch on points of interest such as:

• the dissolution of aristocratic collections and shifts in the prestige of provenance;

• provenance accepted as a guarantor of discernment and authenticity; 

• provenance information and the revaluations of triumphs and tragedies in war and conquest; 

• changing approaches to provenance information in the literature on art and databases; 

• changes in the treatment of provenance information in displays and collection catalogues; 

• changes in the art market’s handling of provenance information; 

• connoisseurship and its changing approaches to provenance information; 

• object and collection histories illustrating changing approaches to the handling of provenance information.

Conveners of this session: Christian Huemer, Belvedere Research Center, Vienna / TIAMSA – The International Art Market Studies Association, and Johannes Nathan, Nathan Fine Art, Zurich/Potsdam / TIAMSA – The International Art Market Studies Association


13.30 – Introduction: Christian Huemer, Belvedere Research Center, Vienna & TIAMSA / Johannes Nathan, TU Berlin & TIAMSA

13.45 – Provenance et connoisseurship: les manuscrits à peintures français du XVe siècle
Constantin Favre, University of Geneva

14.15 – Paths of Possession: The Politics of Provenance in the Cabinet of Drawings of Charles de Cobenzl (1712 – 1771)
Catherine Phillips, European University, St Petersburg

14.45 – Coffee Break

15.15 – Forged, Embellished, Suppressed: Creating and Concealing Provenance for America’s Millionaire Collectors around 1900
Esmée Quodbach, The Frick Collection, New York

15.45 – Darstellungsweisen von Provenienzen in Werkver- zeichnissen und Datenbanken von Museen, mit Fokus auf Namen und Gender
Sonja Niederacher, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

16.15 – Entre «le maître de Buli» et «le uli Loeb-Walden- Vérité»: labelliser les objets d’Afrique et d’Océanie pour les sortir de l’anonymat
Tamara Schild & Marion Bertin, School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS), Paris

The deadline for the Congress Registration is 15 May 2022.

For the full congress programme, registration and additional information, see

The 5th Swiss Congress for Art History, held in Zurich from 22 to 24 June 2022, is organized jointly by the Swiss Association of Art Historians (VKKS) and the Institute for Art History of the University of Zurich (Kunsthistorisches Institut der Universität Zürich). The Congress is aimed at art historians, art researchers and experts from all fields (including both practice and theory), and all institutions.

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