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Provenance Research

Provenance, or the history of ownership, is an essential tool to the understanding of a work of art. Knowing the first owner or the original location of a work of art can help clarify the artist’s intention or deepen our interpretation of the work’s meaning or influence. Equally significant, documenting the provenance of a work of art can help confirm legal ownership. This has become acutely important in recent decades as we have learned full story of the vast and systematic theft of cultural property committed by the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945.
CRANACH THE ELDER, Madonna and Child in a Landscape, 2000_3

Though efforts were made after World War II to return stolen property to its rightful owners, untold thousands of paintings, sculptures, and other works of art remain unaccounted for. As well, the widespread looting of objects from archaeological sites has produced a global market of undocumented antiquities of uncertain ownership. As a fundamental part of its mission, the North Carolina Museum of Art is committed to a rigorous program of provenance research of the works in its permanent collection and to the responsible resolution of any problems that may arise as a result of that research. Nazi-Era Provenance

The NCMA adheres to guidelines and procedures recommended by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD): 

Art Museums and the Identification and Restitution of Works Stolen by the Nazis 

Recommended Procedures for Providing Information to the Public about Objects Transferred in Europe during the Nazi Era 

NCMA curators have identified all works in the permanent collection that either changed hands in continental Europe between 1933 and 1945 or have gaps in their provenance during that period. These works have been duly posted on the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal (NEPIP)  administered by the AAM, a searchable database of art in U.S. museum collections with unresolved provenance for 1933–45. It should be noted that the NCMA has no reason to believe that any of the posted works of art were involved in the Nazi looting of European private and public collections. Works of art often pass from one owner to the next in ways that are legal if difficult to trace. Nevertheless, research is ongoing, and new information on provenance will be updated on this website, with the NEPIP, and in future NCMA publications.

Provenance of Antiquities

With regard to antiquities, provenance includes not only ownership history, but also the artifact’s archaeological “find spot” (specifically called provenience). Antiquities bereft of archaeological context have lost much of their cultural meaning, function, and probable dating. The NCMA adheres to guidelines recommended by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD): 

Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art (rev. 2013) 

The North Carolina Museum of Art recognizes the role of antiquities as cultural emissaries for the history, ideas, and personalities that shaped the modern world. We feel that it is possible to collect responsibly, respecting the intent of laws, regulations, standards, guidelines, and executive orders on cultural patrimony, including but not limited to those of the American Alliance of Museums and UNESCO (Convention on Cultural Patrimony, 1970). We deplore the looting of archaeological sites and are determined to seek verifiable provenance for any object under consideration for acquisition. We submit all objects for review by appropriate registries, such as the Art Loss Register. While it may not be possible to trace every object to its origin, we will exercise due diligence with dealers, collectors, or any other source. After extensive ownership research, antiquities proposed in good judgment for acquisition without a complete provenance must be shown to meet the criteria for the acquisition of antiquities as recommended by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). Once accessioned, these objects must also be posted publicly on the AAMD Object Registry.

Approved by the NCMA Board of Trustees, June 5, 2013

New Acquisitions

As required by the NCMA’s Collection Management Policies, the provenance of all works of art proposed for acquisition must be thoroughly investigated by the curators and a satisfactory report made to the Collections Committee of the Board of Trustees. If, after diligent research, the provenance of the work remains incomplete, the curators and director must determine with a high degree of confidence that the incompleteness of provenance is not serious before an acquisition can proceed.


All questions or information relating to the provenance of works in the NCMA collection should be directed to Michele Frederick, associate curator of European art, via email or by phone, (919) 664-6766.

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