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Collections Vol 10 N3

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"Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals" is a multi-disciplinary peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the discussion of all aspects of handling, preserving, researching, and organizing collections. Curators, archivists, collections managers, preparators, registrars, educators, students, and others contribute.

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11 Articles

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Provenance: Not the Problem (The Solution): Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative

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RESOURCES AND INITIATIVES

Jane C. Milosch

Smithsonian Institution

Project Overview In 2008, the Smithsonian expanded its commitment to World War II-era provenance research on works of art. The Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative (SPRI) was founded, as an institution-wide project, with the goal of enabling such research at all Smithsonian museums and in order to clarify questions concerning gaps in ownership history, transfer of ownership, and unlawful appropriation. The SPRI director matches provenance specialists with curators and collection managers; together they create proactive plans that are both realistic and long-term. Factors they consider in setting research priorities include existing collections, future acquisitions, publications, exhibition preparation, and incoming and outgoing loans. Currently the SPRI is focused on Asian art and decorative arts—emerging fields of study in WWII-era collecting.

Given the Smithsonian’s mandate for broad service to the arts, SPRI also promotes provenance research beyond the Smithsonian’s own museums and archives. Through scholarly exchange in the United States and Europe—symposia, publications, online resources, and training programs for established and emerging professionals—SPRI fosters partnerships with other institutions that speed up the work and often lead to new findings. SPRI shares its research findings as widely as possible to increase the public’s access to collections.

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Princes, Dukes, and Counts: Pedigrees and Problems in the Kress Collection

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Nancy H. Yeide

National Gallery of Art

Project Overview In 2010 the Samuel H. Kress Foundation supported a grant for centralized provenance research on the Kress collection of Old Master paintings donated by the Foundation to repositories across the United States. The grant supports museum best practices in the field of provenance research and transparency in museum collection information—as promoted by the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors—and also advances the Samuel H. Kress Foundation’s mission to serve the field of art history as practiced in American art museums. The project is based at the National Gallery of Art, which has taken a leadership role in the field of provenance research, facilitated by its location in Washington in close proximity to the United States National Archives, the Archives of American Art, and its own outstanding art historical research resources. The project is centered on a systematic approach to research that provides methodological efficiencies, economies of scale and a consistency in research standards that would not be capitalized upon if conducted independently by Kress repositories or on a case by case basis. The current article is a preliminary report on the project.

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The “German Sales 1930–1945” Database Project

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Christian Huemer

The Getty Research Institute

Editor’s Note: Head of the Project for the Study of Collecting and Provenance at the Getty Research Institute, Christian Huemer has overseen the digitization project “German Sales 1930–1945: Art Works, Art Markets, and Cultural Policy,” a two-year collaboration (2011–2013) with the Heidelberg University Library, the Kunstbibliothek (SMPK) Berlin and thirty-six contributing institutions that have worked to create an easily searchable, comprehensive online database of World War II-era German art sales records. The text that follows is based upon a project presentation held at the Getty in the summer 2013. To view the project, visit: http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/provenance/german_sales.html

On Friday, June 30, 1939, art collectors, curators, dealers, journalists, and celebrities packed themselves into the salon of the Grand Hôtel National in Lucerne, Switzerland. On sale by the Galerie Fischer were 125 paintings and sculptures by modern masters purged from German museums. The Nazis had decreed that art they deemed “degenerate” should either be exchanged for foreign currency or destroyed. Many potential buyers suspected the sale would in some way benefit the Third Reich’s nefarious military efforts. Others reasoned that it was more important to save these works for posterity. In one of the most anticipated moments of the entire auction, Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 Self-Portrait climbed from 145,000 Swiss Francs to 175,000. Within the longer history of the art market, the Lucerne auction was an exceptional phenomenon. It featured major modern works of art that were returned to the art market after having been part of permanent museum collections. Given its uniqueness, the 1939 Fischer auction is extremely well documented and researched.

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“Everyone Brings a Piece to the Puzzle”: Conversations with Elaine Rosenberg and Reflections on Provenance Research among The Paul Rosenberg Archives

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Laurie A. Stein

Smithsonian Institution

Reflections on Using The Paul Rosenberg Archives

I can no longer recall the exact date of my first contact with Elaine Rosenberg and of my initial visit to the archive of Paul Rosenberg and Company in New York. It must have been in the early 2000s. However, I can vividly recall the feeling of the experience: arriving at the renowned address, gazing up at the impressive gallery building on 79th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues, and traveling with anticipation in the elevator to the top floor. When I emerged, I found myself in several small rooms filled with fabulous books, great art, and tempting document boxes, and where I was greeted by Elaine Rosenberg (daughter-in-law of Paul Rosenberg and widow of his son and gallery successor, Alexandre Rosenberg) and by Ilda François, Mrs. Rosenberg’s assistant. I sat on a low sofa and tried hard to succinctly and articulately describe my research inquiry, and what I hoped to find in the documentary resources of one of the most important international art galleries of the twentieth century. Mrs. Rosenberg listened with a mien of elegance, intelligence, and a dash of humor. And from that first moment, I was enchanted.

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Navigating the Gray Area: Pechstein’s Girl Combing Her Hair, the Littman Collection, and the Limits of Evidence

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CASE STUDIES

Catherine Herbert

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Abstract     In 2004 the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) was contacted by the Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO) regarding a potential claim for a painting by Max Pechstein in the PMA’s collection from the heirs of an important German Jewish collector, Ismar Littmann. In researching this artwork, the PMA confronted a situation involving conflicting lines of provenance: notes on the painting’s history made by its former owner, Margot Simenauer Behrendt, who received the painting from her father Felix Simenauer, seemed to be contradicted by the date of a typescript inventory entry from the Littmann collection provided by the HCPO. It was unclear whether the conflict arose because the documentation or the Museum’s interpretation of it was at fault or whether sufficient documentation was simply lacking. After exhausting all available avenues of research, the PMA had to reach a determination the Museum believed was just and fair to all parties in the face of ambiguous and even contradictory evidence.

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Researching the Wertheim Collection at the Harvard Art Museums

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Elizabeth M. Rudy

Harvard Art Museums

Abstract     The Harvard Art Museums have led a two-year, joint conservation and archival project on the Wertheim Collection, a group of 43 French paintings, sculptures, and drawings that was bequeathed to the museum in 1951 and has been on view in a separate gallery since 1974. Recent investigations into certain aspects of this important collection at private and institution’s archives have revealed new information about Maurice Wertheim’s collecting practices, the origins of some of the paintings’ frames, and the exhibition of the Collection before its arrival at Harvard. Archival documents have also contextualized and helped to advance the examinations and treatments of these singular objects by the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. This project has been critical for the preparation of the rehanging of the Collection at the renovated Harvard Art Museums, which will open in 2014.

Over the last two years, the Harvard Art Museums have led a joint curatorial and conservation project on the Wertheim Collection. This group of 43 paintings, sculptures, and drawings was assembled by Maurice Wertheim (1886–1950), an investment banker and philanthropist from New York. Wertheim’s myriad and diverse charitable activities included serving as a trustee of The Nation magazine, serving as a board member of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, and co-founding the New York Theatre Guild in 1919. His commitment to Harvard University was one of his greatest legacies: from 1936 until his death in 1950, he assembled a collection of fine art that included masterpieces by French impressionist, post-impressionist, and contemporary masters, which he bequeathed to the Fogg Art Museum. His estimable collection has been on view at the museum in its own gallery since 1974.1

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One Painting Concealed Behind Another: Picasso’s La Douleur (1903) and Guitar, Gas-Jet, and Bottle (1913)

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Christel Hollevoet-Force

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Abstract    The provenance of Pablo Picasso’s racy Erotic Scene, commonly known as La Douleur, of 1903, remained an enigma for decades. When it entered the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection in 1984 through bequest, nothing was known about the canvas’ history prior to its acquisition by the American collector Scofield Thayer in the 1920s. The painting was not included by Christian Zervos or Pierre Daix in their catalogues raisonnes, because the artist disowned it. lt wasn’t discussed in the Picasso literature until 1991, and was never exhibited until 1998. Elucidating the provenance of this canvas of the artist’s Blue Period not only puts an end to speculation about its attribution, but reveals that its fate was intertwined with that of a cubist still life, and throws a completely new light on its meaning within the artist’s oeuvre. Despite the painter’s concerted efforts to conceal and disclaim La Douleur, after a century of oblivion its past has been unveiled and its significance is revealed.

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The Eugene Garbáty Collection of European Art

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Victoria Reed

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Abstract     Little has been written about the art collection of Eugene Garbaty, a Jewish industrialist from Berlin who fled Germany and settled in the United States in the late 1930s. Yet, many American museum collections include works of art that belonged to Garbaty, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) is no exception; between the 1940s and the 1960s, the MFA acquired thirty-four works of European painting, sculpture, and decorative art from him. Based on a study of the provenance of these objects, this article offers preliminary observations on the formation of Garbaty’s collection, its fate during World War II, and its dispersal within the United States.

In March 2011, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) reached a financial settlement with the heirs of Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer, allowing the Museum to retain four seventeenth-century tapestries that have been part of the Museum’s collection since the 1950s (Figure 1).1 The tapestries come from a larger series, woven by the Barberini tapestry manufactory in Rome, to celebrate the life and achievements of Pope Urban VIII Barberini. In the late nineteenth century, the series was broken up and dispersed; by 1928, eight of the tapestries were on the art market in Berlin. Before coming to Boston, the MFA tapestries were included in one of the notorious, 1935 forced sales of the stock of Margraf and Co., a Berlin consortium of art galleries run by the Oppenheimers until the couple fled Nazi persecution and emigrated to France in 1933, losing control of their business. The gallery stock was liquidated at auction, so that Margraf—well-known as a Jewish-owned company—eventually could be erased from the German commercial registry. As the auctions were the direct result of racial persecution, and the Oppenheimers themselves received none of the proceeds, the sales were not legal; upon uncovering this information, the MFA contacted the Oppenheimer heirs who readily agreed upon a settlement that would allow the Museum to acquire good title to the tapestries.

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“In Love at First Sight Completely, Hopelessly, and Forever with Chinese Art”: The Eugene and Agnes Meyer Collection of Chinese Art at the Freer Gallery of Art

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Dorota Chudzicka

Smithsonian Institution

Abstract    The Agnes and Eugene Meyer collection of Chinese bronzes, paintings, and sculptures came to the Freer Gallery of Art through Agnes Meyer’s donations in the 1960s, her bequest in 1971—the largest single expansion of the Freer Gallery’s collection to date—and her children’s donations in the 1990s and 2000s. Research on this collection reveals that the Meyers, who were active supporters of avant-garde art in New York, also acquired their Asian collection in the years between 1910-20. The study of the Meyer collection, and the circumstances of its acquisition, provides a fascinating look at the rapidly expanding Asian art market in the United States in the World War I era, and especially of the influence of Charles Freer on the collectors during this era. Encouraged and guided by Freer, Agnes and Eugene Meyer acquired Chinese art objects from many newly established dealers of Chinese art in the U.S. While the Meyers’ personal acquisition activities began to dwindle in the 1920s, Agnes Meyer remained closely involved in shaping the Freer Gallery’s collection in subsequent years.

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Points of View

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POINTS OF VIEW

Gary Vikan

Former Director, The Walters Art Museum 1

Provenance research for a fine arts museum is neither a luxury contingent on adequate staffing with appropriate training, nor is it one of those onerous tasks only to be undertaken when imposed and funded from without. Rather, provenance research is integral to the day-to-day work of any art museum committed to scholarship—a facet of the analysis of a work of art every bit as important to revealing its story as are its iconographic, stylistic, and technical analyses. Such research is especially important for the Walters Art Museum which, perhaps to a greater extent than any other comprehensive fine arts museum in the country, is the legacy of dealer–collector interaction, to the complete exclusion of works professionally excavated in archaeological context.2 Researching and reconstructing the collection’s past has been central to the museum’s work since it was opened to the public in 1934.

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Author Biographies

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AUTHOR BIOGRAPHIES

Compiled by Manon Gaudet

Provenance Research Intern, Smithsonian Institution

Dorota Chudzicka is an art historian working in Doha, Qatar and Washington, D.C. She is currently a curator at the Qatar Museums Authority. Between 2008 and 2013 Chudzicka was a member of the Smithsonian Institution World War II Provenance Project as a Provenance Research Associate at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, where she conducted systematic provenance research of Asian artworks. Prior to this role, Chudzicka worked at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she focused on the research, documentation and care of the 19th and 20th century European collection. She contributed her research and writing to a number of exhibitions, including Manet and the Sea (2003), Seurat and the Making of La Grande jatte (2004), Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde (2006-2007), and Impressionists: Master Paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago (2008). Dorota earned her M.A. from the Warsaw University Department of History after completing her medical studies at the Warsaw School of Medicine. In 2013 she completed her doctoral thesis entitled “From Modernism Towards Expression of National Identity: Stanislaw Szukalski’s Concept of Art,” at the Warsaw University.

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