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Provenance in the World War II Era, 1933 - 1945
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About the Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative (SPRI)

Provenance research is an integral part of curatorial and museum practice that documents the chain of ownership of an object from its creation to the present. Thus provenance provides a powerful lens through which to look at and learn about art, the history of collecting, and museums. This research is an essential tool for solving issues of the authentication, ownership, and value of objects in a museum's collection.

In 2009, the Smithsonian expanded its commitment to World War II-era provenance research on works of art by founding the institution-wide Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative. SPRI facilitates the work of provenance research at all 19 Smithsonian museums, and assists in clarification of questions concerning gaps in ownership history, transfer of ownership, and unlawful appropriation.

SPRI aims to expand beyond the World War II era, to assist with current provenance issues, and to explore the implications of provenance research for art history and connoisseurship. We anchor the museum in its core missions: stewardship, education, and appreciation of all cultures. When museums share their knowledge of the provenances of objects in their collections, they enhance the exhibitions and publications they offer the public. We are developing:

 • a network of museums and scholars to expedite and contextualize provenance research;
 • training and mentoring programs for established and emerging professionals; and
 • new technologies to better share, interpret, and disseminate findings.

Current Smithsonian Projects

SPRI is pioneering projects focused on World War II-era provenance research of Asian art and of the decorative arts, with on-going projects at the

 • Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery:
   • Asian Arts Provenance Connections Project
   • Guidelines and Procedures for World War II Provenance Issues
 • National Museum of American History: Research of the Hans Syz Collection of European Porcelain
 • Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York: Ongoing research of the decorative arts collection
 • Archives of American Art: "A Guide to World War II-Era Provenance Research Resources"
 • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: Ongoing collections research

Recent National and International Collaborations

Given the Smithsonian's mandate for broad service to the arts, SPRI also promotes research beyond the Smithsonian's own museums and archives. Through international scholarly exchange—symposia, publications, online resources, and training programs for established and emerging professionals—SPRI fosters partnerships with other institutions that speed the work of provenance research around the world and lead to the public dissemination of new resources and findings.

 • The German/American Provenance Research Exchange Program (PREP) for Museum Professionals,
 • The University of Glasgow and Smithsonian partnership launched the first graduate/post-graduate degree
   program in provenance research, "Art History: Collecting and Provenance in an International Context,"
 • Programs on current issues in provenance and cultural heritage at the:
   • American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting 2016
   • College Art Association Annual Conference 2016
 • SPRI/National Archives and Records Administration Nazi-Era Provenance Workshop at the Archives
   of American Art (AAA), 2014

Collecting & Provenance: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach, edited by Jane Milosch and Nick Pearce. Roman &
 Littlefield, forthcoming.
"Museums, Archives, and Universities--Structuring Future Connections with Big Data," by Jane Milosch,
  Michael Kurtz, and Richard Marciano in Big Data in the Arts and Humanities: Theory and Practice, edited
  by Giovanni Schiuma and Daniela Carlucci. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, forthcoming.
"Advocating for International Collaborations: World War II-Era Provenance Research in Museums," by
  Jane C. Milosch in Museums, Ethics and Cultural Heritage, edited by Bernice L. Murphy (193-209). London:
  International Council of Museums/Routledge, 2016.
Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals, "Provenance Research in American
Institutions" 10.3, edited by Jane C. Milosch, Lynn H. Nicholas, and Megan M. Fontanella, 2014.
"Creating a Community of International Exchange: World War II-Era Provenance Research
  Projects at the Smithsonian Institution," by Jane C. Milosch in 'The West' Versus 'the East' or the United
Europe?: The Different Conceptions of Provenance Research, Documentation and Identification of
  Looted Cultural Assets and the Possibilities of International Cooperation in Europe and Worldwide;
  Proceedings of an International Academic Conference Held in Poděbrady on 8-9 October, 2013
, edited by
  Mečislav Borák (53-65). Prague: Documentation Centre for Property Transfers of Cultural Assets of WWII
  Victims, 2014.


Jane Milosch, Director
Laurie A. Stein, Senior Advisor
Lynn H. Nicholas, Advisor
Nick Pearce, Research Associate, and Richmond Chair of Fine Arts, University of Glasgow
Andrea Hull, Program Associate
Johanna Best, 2016 Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow, Program Manager for Scholarly and Public Engagement
Colleen Carroll, PREP Project Coordinator, US

For information about SPRI, please contact

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