Provenance research seeks to reconstruct the history of a work of art from its genesis to its present location. Its goal is to document the complete chronology of an object’s ownership and custody wherever possible.
In accordance with the ICOM Code of Ethics, the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, the public art collection of the city of Basel, and its advisory Board of Trustees, believe that it is their moral duty and obligation as well as their scholar responsability to make every effort to address the history of the collection’s holdings with honesty and transparency. Moreover, we have pledged to abide by the Washington Declaration of 1988. Adopted by 44 countries, the Washington Principles express the signatories’ commitment to an active and vigilant participation in efforts to identify Nazi-confiscated art and works sold under pressure from the Nazi regime in Germany and the German-occupied areas.
In light of these commitments and in connection with the research undertaken by the Independent Commission of Experts Switzerland–Second World War (ICE), the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung in 2000–2001 undertook a systematic review of its own archives up to the year 1960 and assembled a comprehensive index. It was accompanied by an initial survey dealing with the question of looted art. In 2010–2013, a project supported by third-party funding enabled us to perform a thorough scholarly review of our entire holdings of paintings and sculptures that yielded an electronic catalogue of the collection; it is publicly accessible through the Collection Online section of our website. The documentation compiled by these projects is a valuable basis for further research to be conducted at the museum; in the past several years, it has facilitated the production of numerous dossiers on the provenance of selected works and ensembles.
A project sponsored by the Federal Office of Culture that was launched in the fall of 2016 now provides the framework for a more in-depth examination of the exceptionally challenging issues we confront in provenance research. Within the scope of this project, we currently investigate the provenance of every one of the ca. 380 paintings and sculptures that entered the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel between 1933 and 1945. In the future, we plan to conduct similar reviews of the disparately larger collection of works on paper in the Kupferstichkabinett (Department of Prints and Drawings) and the holdings of the Kunstmuseum’s library. The systematic evaluation and synthesis of all available sources will allow us to understand the museum’s collection-building policies of the period under the leadership of the directors Otto Fischer (1928–1939) and Georg Schmidt (1939–1962) in their historical context. The results of the research will be published in our Collection Online upon completion of the current project.