During the tumultuous years before and throughout World War II, the Nazi regime and its collaborators orchestrated on an unprecedented scale a system of confiscation, coercive transfer, looting, and destruction of cultural objects in Europe. Millions of art objects and other cultural items were unlawfully and often forcibly removed from their rightful owners. While many of these confiscated items have been returned to their owners through extensive postwar restitutions, some continue to appear on the legitimate art market and make their way into private and public collections.
In the late 1990s, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) issued guidelines for museums concerning objects that may have been illegally confiscated during the World War II era. After the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets was held in 1998, AAM and AAMD further recommended that museums make all currently available information accessible to online researchers to aid in the discovery and identification of objects that were unlawfully appropriated during the Holocaust era. Under these recommendations, museums should identify works in their collections that were created before 1946 and were acquired after 1932; that underwent change of ownership between 1933 and 1945; and were, or might reasonably be thought to have been, in continental Europe in the years before and during World War II. Between 1998 and 2000, Smithsonian representatives implemented the recommendations from AAM and AAMD, undertaking provenance research in the paintings, sculpture, and Judaica collections of the Smithsonian Institution.
The National Museum of Asian Art’s World War II–Era Provenance Project
In 2008, the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art initiated a comprehensive provenance research project on its Asian art collection. The project represents a long-term commitment to research as fully as possible the provenance of all objects in any media within the Freer and Sackler collections that have gaps in ownership history or may have been subject to questionable transfer of ownership or unlawful appropriation during the World War II era (1932–1946). These research efforts have been generously supported by the David Berg Foundation.
Related Museum Documentation
- The National Museum of Asian Art’s Guidelines and Procedures for World War II Provenance Issues (pdf)
- The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery: World War II Era Provenance Project, 1933–1945 (pdf)
As part of the Smithsonian’s ongoing commitment to undertaking provenance research across its collections, the National Museum of Asian Art is engaged in a comprehensive provenance research project focused on its works of art. The museum began the project by focusing on its Chinese collections. While continuing to research Chinese objects, research has now expanded to the entirety of the collections.
The Asian Art Provenance Connections Project initially focused on the WWII era, connecting the people who collected and/or sold objects, historical and cultural events that occurred, and archival documents produced between 1933 and 1945. Now, museum researchers are working to compile biographical and archival data for dealers and collectors who were active in the late nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth centuries. Biographies of selected collectors and dealers are available as PDFs, with links to their related objects on the Freer and Sackler website and through the Smithsonian Collections Search Center.
The David Berg Foundation has generously supported the development and implementation of the Connections project. The University of Glasgow have also provided valuable assistance, leadership, and scholarship.
Biographies of selected collectors and dealers are available as PDFs, with links to their related objects on the Freer and Sackler website and through the Smithsonian Collections Search Center.
Important Links for World War II–Era Provenance Research
- Provenance in the World War II Era, 1933–1945, Smithsonian Institution
- Art Loss Register
- American Alliance of Museums, Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era
- Association of Art Museum Directors, The Registry of Resolutions of Claims for Nazi-Era Cultural Assets
- Association for Provenance Research (International Arbeitskreis Provenienzforschung)
- Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal
We welcome queries on the provenance of works in our collections. If you have any information or questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joanna M. Gohmann, PhD
Provenance Researcher & Object Historian
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art
The information presented on this website may be revised and updated at any time as ongoing research progresses or as otherwise warranted. Pending any such revisions and updates, information on this site may be incomplete or inaccurate or may contain typographical errors. Neither the Smithsonian nor its officers, employees, or agents make any representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of this site or information on this site. The use of this site and the information provided on it are subject to your own judgment. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery welcome information that would augment or clarify the ownership histories of objects in their collections.