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World War II Provenance Research

From its inception, the National Gallery of Art has conducted extensive research into the provenance, or history of ownership, of objects in its collection, with particular attention over the past several years to the World War II era. In the course of this research it was discovered that the objects in this slideshow had in fact been looted during the war. Archival research uncovered documentation indicating that each of these works of art had been returned to its rightful owner after the war. These objects are displayed in this slideshow with links to their ownership history. Wartime histories, including extensive archival references, are documented in their provenance footnotes. (See information on how to read Gallery provenance texts.) One painting, Frans Snyders' Still Life with Fruit and Game, was determined to have been looted from a French collection and not subsequently restituted. It was returned to its rightful owners in 2000. In 2016, the National Gallery of Art came to a mutually acceptable agreement with the family of the prior owner of a drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, A Branch with Shriveled Leaves, in which it was returned to the family and a second drawing, by Friedrich Olivier, remains in the collection of the National Gallery of Art.

Several of these objects had been confiscated by the Nazi Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) from private French collections and stored at the Jeu de Paume in Paris. Captured German records, now at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, have been used to trace the confiscation and subsequent dispersal from the Jeu de Paume. Most of the Gallery objects confiscated in this manner were discovered in salt mines in southern Germany and Austria by the Allies in the last days of the war, and were removed to the Munich Central Collecting Point. Records from the Munich Central Collecting Point document the restitution of the objects to their countries of origin, where prewar owners or heirs claimed them. Other objects now in the National Gallery of Art were recovered after the war and returned to owners in Liechtenstein, Austria, and Holland.

The National Gallery of Art provides known provenance information on this website for all paintings and sculpture in the collection. The provenance is subject to change as new information becomes available. This research is an ongoing project, and the Gallery welcomes any information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in its collection.

Aalders, Gerard. Roof: de ontvreemding van joods bezit tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog. The Hague, 1999.

Bernhard, Marianne, and Klaus P. Rogner. Verlorene Werke der Malerei; in Deutschland in der Zeit von 1939 bis 1945 zerstörte und verschollene Gemälde aus Museen und Galerien. Munich, 1965.

Bradsher, Greg. Holocaust Era Assets. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC, 1998.

Buomberger, Thomas. Raubkunst-Kunstraub: Die Schweiz und der Handel mit gestohlenen Kulturgütern zür Zeit des Zweiten Weltkriegs. Zurich, 1998.

Feliciano, Hector. The Lost Museum. New York, 1997.

Kurtz, Michael. Nazi Contraband: American Policy on the Return of European Cultural Treasures, 1945-1955. New York, 1985.

Lilllie, Sophie. Was Einmal WarVienna, 2003.

Le Masne de Chermont, Isabelle. À qui appartenaient ces tableaux? / Looking for Owners. Paris, 2008.

Nicholas, Lynn H. The Rape of Europa. New York, 1994.

Petropoulos, Jonathan. Art as Politics in the Third Reich. Chapel Hill, NC, 1996.

Petropoulos, Jonathan. The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany. New York, 2000.

Schwarz, Birgit. Hitlers Museum: Die fotoalben Gemäldegalerie Linz. Vienna, 2004.

Simpson, Elizabeth, ed. The Spoils of War: World War II and Its Aftermath. The Loss, Reappearance, and Recovery of Cultural Property. New York, 1997.

Tisa-Francini, Esther, Anja Heuss, and George Kreiss. Fluchtgut-Raubgut: Der Transfer von Kulturgütern in und über die Schweiz 1933-1945 und die Frage der RestitutionZurich, 2001.

Yeide, Nancy H.  Beyond the Dreams of Avarice: The Hermann Goering Collection. Dallas, 2009.

Yeide, Nancy H., Konstantin Akinsha, and Amy L. Walsh. The AAM Guide to Provenance Research. Washington, DC, 2001.