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A Question of Provenance: Holocaust-era Art, Research, and Restitution

Evening Program

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0240
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Hitler examines artworks that were confiscated for a proposed F├╝hrermuseum in Linz, Austria (National Archives)

Provenance research on a work of art, a standard museum practice, ideally aims to establish an unbroken chain of ownership from the piece’s creation through the present. In the case of looted artworks, that information can also play a part in its restitution.   

However, identifying the rightful or legal owner of a work of art following times of war and genocide—when people, objects, and documents are destroyed or dispersed around the world—is anything but simple. The aftermath of the 2012 discovery of an important cache of potentially looted Nazi-era art in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt offers insights into how provenance specialists address the complexity of research to assign ownership.

In a fascinating evening, six art historians unfold stories of the lives of Jewish collectors, German art dealers, and the art-world web that connected them. These experts served on Germany’s international advisory group for the “Schwabinger (Gurlitt) Art Trove” Task Force. They were charged with overseeing research on the horde, which included 1,250 paintings, drawings, and prints by artists like Picasso, Chagall, and Matisse. The collection was amassed by Gurlitt’s father, the now-infamous “degenerate art” dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, who was himself one-quarter Jewish and an influential promoter of avant-garde European art.

Panelists include Jane Milosch, director, Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative; Meike Hoffmann, professor, Degenerate Art Research Center, Free University of Berlin, and author of Hitler’s Art Dealer: Hildebrand Gurlitt, 1895–1956; Sophie Lillie, independent scholar and specialist in pre-war private collecting and patronage in Vienna, and author of Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer; Shlomit Steinberg, senior curator of European art, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and curator of two exhibitions on stolen art; Yehudit Shendar, emeritus deputy director and senior art curator, Yad Vashem (The World Holocaust Remembrance Center), Jerusalem; and Andrea Baresel-Brand, scientific coordinator, German Center for Lost Art.

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit


S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)