Guest Blogger: Rebecca Korach Woan
"Just because you bought it doesn’t mean you own it."
-Lawrence Shindall, CEO, ARIS Corporation
The heightened sensitivity surrounding the provenance, or ownership history, of valuable works of art is a relatively recent phenomenon. While provenance and the related but distinct issue of legitimate title have always been factors in the assembling of art collections it was only in 1998 that the Association of Museum Directors issued guidelines for museums to first determine the provenance of their works to the best of their ability, and then to disclose it.
This was followed a year later by a similar directive from the American Association of Museums. These directives made particular reference to art that had changed hands during the World War II era (1933- 45), a time when looting and theft of artworks by regimes and individuals reached unprecedented levels of scale and value. Also highlighting this relatively recent attention to provenance was the formation in 1998 of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets, which published its final report in 2000. Provenance alone does not tell the whole story. Good title is spoiled by theft, which includes the "forced sales" that occurred during the Second World War.