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Eline van Dijk is the advisor for provenance research at the LWL Museum of Art and Culture. Photo: Wilfried Gerharz

Eline van Dijk is the advisor for provenance research at the LWL Museum of Art and Culture. Photo: Wilfried Gerharz

A Question of Provenance. Pictures and their Stories

Exhibition from 31. July 2020 – 10. January 2021

The knowledge about the origin of a cultural heritage, its so-called "provenance", is of great importance for the current owner. Thus, a complete reconstruction of the ownership since the origin of the respective work can prove or question its authenticity. The provenance also links the object's biography with the biographies of its former owners. It can become the starting point for new research approaches and contribute to the interpretation of the object as part of our cultural memory.

Socially and culturally, the demand for information on the origin of works in public and private collections is growing. This is because during the National Socialist era there was a shift in cultural assets of unprecedented scale and brutality. Countless collections were smashed and their individual parts widely scattered, whether through confiscation, forced sales or abandonment when their owners fled from the National Socialists. These goods came into circulation, while knowledge of their origin was concealed and later forgotten. Targeted research into the origin of the objects that were created before 1945 and entered the holdings of the LWL Museum after 1933 is a reaction to this deplorable state of affairs.

In August 2018, the LWL Museum of Art and Culture, with the support of the Stiftung Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste, started a project for the systematic examination of the painting holdings of the Museum's Gallery of Modern Art. 

To the project

August 2018 – July 2020

For the research, an "autopsy" of the object is first carried out. An overview of any numbers, notes or stamps found on the reverse side is drawn up and these are then evaluated. Ideally, this should include references to previous owners and exhibitions at which the object was presented. In addition, the files in the museum's in-house archives and relevant literature are consulted. Often the next step then leads to national and international archives with, for example, restitution files, artists' estates and business records of art dealers or private collectors.

At the end of the project, the results of the research are added to the collection online as additional information on the respective object. The objects for which it can be determined that they have been confiscated due to Nazi persecution are first reported to the Lost Art database. The next step is to negotiate a fair and just solution with the former owners or their heirs in accordance with the Washington principles.


By signing the Washington principles in December 1998, the Federal Republic of Germany committed itself to identifying cultural property confiscated during the Nazi era, to finding its rightful owners and to finding fair and equitable solutions for the further whereabouts of the cultural property. To implement this obligation, the Federal Government, the Länder and the municipal umbrella organisations adopted a Joint Declaration in December 1999 in which they commit themselves to locating and restoring Nazi-confiscated cultural property, especially from Jewish property.


Eline van Dijk