Research into war-time provenance at the British Museum
All departments in the British Museum have been carrying out research into the provenance of their collections to establish whether anything could have been stolen by the Nazis prior to acquisition by the British Museum.
This has taken place in response to a government initiative to take positive action towards this issue, following an approach by Lord Janner of the Holocaust Educational Trust in 1997. All national and local museums within the UK have been urged by the government to examine the issues surrounding the spoliation of art during the Holocaust and World War II. Similar initiatives have taken place in public museums across Europe, Canada and the United States. See G. Bartrum, 'Research into war-time provenance at the British Museum', British Museum Magazine, no. 37, Summer 2000, pp. 13-15 for further details.
Action has been coordinated by the working group set up in June 1998 by the National Museum Directors' Conference (NMDC) which is chaired by the director of the Tate, Sir Nicholas Serota. Results of the research taking place in museums and galleries across the UK can be seen on the government Cultural Property Advice website which is updated regularly.
This website shows lists provided by each institution, including the British Museum, of items for which further information is sought and the whereabouts of which are unknown for all or part of the period 1933 - 1945. In such cases where it is known that an object was forcibly acquired by the Nazis, every effort has been made to ensure that the material was correctly restituted at the end of World War II and that subsequent acquisitions were made with good title. Such objects are also listed.
Circle of Martin Schongauer, St Dorothy, from the Feldmann collection
Special emphasis has been made on provenance research in the Department of Prints and Drawings. This type of research is not at all straightforward because art dealers do not routinely keep long term records of all material that passes through their hands, and it is common for the history of an object's ownership to be incomplete. The extensive collection of prints has not been subjected to systematic research because individual prints exist in numerous identical impressions and are consequently impossible to identify in almost every case. A long list of old master drawings shows all continental drawings with an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the 1933-1945 period.
Further details can be seen on the government Cultural Property Advice website which provides full information on research into spoliation being carried out in the British Museum and other museums and galleries throughout the United Kingdom.