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.

In a project launched in the fall of 2016 with funding support from the Swiss Federal Office of Culture and completed in late August 2018, we addressed the complex and challenging questions raised by provenance research in what were for us unprecedented breadth and depth, investigating the provenance of all the ca. 380 paintings and sculptures that entered the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, the municipal art collection of Basel, between 1933 and 1945. By systematically analyzing all available sources and synopsizing the findings, we were able to draw up a comprehensive account of the Kunstmuseum Basel’s collection-building policies of this period, part of the tenures of the conservators Otto Fischer (1928–1939) and Georg Schmidt (1939–1962), and embed them in their historical context. The results of our research are publicly available through our Collection Online. The list below offers an overview of all works we examined.

A generous allocation of additional funding support by the Federal Office of Culture for 2019–2020 will now allow us to extend the research in the abovementioned project to the paintings and sculptures acquired during the postwar era (through 1962); a second project will examine ca. 2,000 drawings that entered the collections of the Kupferstichkabinett (Department of Prints and Drawings) between 1933 and 1945. We will begin by digitizing these works, an undertaking made possible by funding support from the Sophie and Karl Binding Foundation. This will allow us to assess the need for more in-depth provenance research. Once the two projects are completed, their findings will again be published through our Collection Online.

Project Provenance Research 2016-2018