German Government Designates $3.6 Million Fund for Provenance Research

Artforum 14 March 2017

Since it was discovered that the art collection of the late Cornelius Gurlitt—which he inherited from his father, Hildebrand, an art dealer who worked for the Nazis—contained at least five works that were either sold under duress or looted, with an additional 153 artworks suspected of being stolen, the German government will dedicate $3.6 million to provenance research, writes Catherine Hickley of the New York Times. The German government made the funding decision last month, with the hope that more private collectors will come forward about artworks in their possession that may have unclear histories of acquisition.

For decades, art in private collections was restricted from being researched—only public collections, such as those of museums and libraries, could be investigated. But new generations of collectors who have inherited art want any works that were purchased or taken under unscrupulous circumstances returned to the heirs of their rightful owners. “I don’t want stolen goods hanging on the wall—it’s quite simple,” said Jan Philipp Reemtsma, who hired a provenance expert more than a dozen years ago to look into the art he inherited from his father, tobacco businessman Philipp F. Reemtsma.

Uwe Hartmann, the head of provenance research at the German Lost Art Foundation, said he’s seen an increase in concern over inherited artworks from private collectors. He states that inquiries into twelve collections have already started or are in the process of being finished. He sometimes receives artworks in the mail from collectors who assume the work was illegally obtained. He can do nothing with them but send them back and post pictures of the pieces on, a website that carries images of works of uncertain provenance.

The family that owns Dr. Oetker, a German baking company, hired a researcher to scrutinize their collection of two hundred works several years ago. It was discovered that four artworks were stolen by Nazis. A portrait by Anthony van Dyck was repatriated to the sole heir of Jacques Goudstikker, a Dutch art dealer who escaped Germany in 1940. Another painting from the family’s collection, by Hans Thoma, was returned to the heirs of Jewish collector Hedwig Ullmann.
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