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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755

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Comparative Examples of Complete and Incomplete Provenance Information

The high professional and moral responsibility of researching our collections for traces of Nazi-era war loot provides us with a chance to educate. As a teaching museum, the Hood Museum of Art feels this responsibility keenly. The addition of several new pages to our website goes beyond a response to new guidelines created by the American Association of Museums: this broad historical problem helps us to focus attention on why, what, and how much we know about the works of art that are in our care. We welcome, therefore, the opportunity to look deeply at the past history of our collections and to share what we find with the public.

The complex ownership history of many older works of art often makes it difficult to provide an accurate account of the provenance of these objects from the time of their manufacture to the present. Moreover, imprecise record-keeping, inconsistent attributions and titles, and the lack of distinguishing marks or inscriptions contribute to the difficulties in establishing a complete provenance. As a result, it is surprisingly rare to find a work of art without some gaps and ambiguities in its history. While all of the European paintings in the Hood Museum of Art's collection that meet the criteria set out in the introduction to this website are fully accessible, the presence of objects in this database does not necessarily imply that they were looted or improperly acquired. The fact is, many works of art have provenance information that is, at this date, incomplete and in most cases still requires further research. Two contrasting examples—one a case of complete provenance, the other of incomplete provenance—serve to illustrate this point.

Complete Provenance Information

Pablo Picasso, Spanish, 1881-1973, in Paris after 1904
Guitar on a Table
Oil, sand, and charcoal on canvas
20 1/8 x 24 1/4 in (51.1 x 61.6 cm)
Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, Class of 1930; P.975.79

This painting was acquired by Gertrude Stein (American, 1874-1946, in Paris after 1902) directly from the artist. After Stein died, her collection was entrusted to her companion, Alice B. Toklas (American, 1877-1967, in Paris after 1907) until her death. Guitar on a Table was bought by Nelson A. Rockefeller in 1968 from Stein's estate. The painting was donated to Dartmouth College by Rockefeller, an alumnus of the college, in 1975. The painting has hung at the Hood Museum of Art since the building opened to the public, in 1985.

Incomplete Provenance Information

Attributed to Ferdinand Bol, Dutch, 1616-1680
Portrait of a Lady
Oil on canvas
26 1/4 x 21 1/4 in (66.5 x 54 cm)
Bequest of Virginia P. and Creighton C. Hart, Class of 1928; P.999.19

Collection of Stanislaus Augustus, King of Poland (reigned 1764-95) [1]. Collection of Jacob M. Heimann, New York, by 1941 [2]. Sale June 4, 1942, New York (Parke-Bernet), no. 58 [3]. Collection of Jacques Leon Stern, by 1950 [4]. Sale November 3-4, 1950, New York (Parke-Bernet), no. 48. Collection of Baron Cassel van Doorn, by 1955 [5]. Sale December 9-10, 1955, New York (Parke-Bernet), no. 49. Collection of Virginia P. and Creighton C. Hart, by 1965 [6]. Bequested to Hood Museum of Art by Virginia P. Hart, 1999

[1] The red wax seal of Stanislaus Augustus is located on the painting's stretcher. No other provenance information is available for this work of art from the late eighteenth century until its appearance in America by 1941. All secondary sources thus far consulted in an attempt to locate earlier references to this painting are listed in the museum's object file. The attribution to Ferdinand Bol was rejected by Albert Blankert in his catalogue raisonne of 1982 (Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680): Rembrandt's Pupil [Doornspijk, Netherlands: Davaco], p. 187), but he later wrote in private correspondence of February 25, 1999 that "judging from the illustration [that I saw then] not impossible [as Bol], but illustration too unclear. . . . In any case, a seventeenth-century Dutch painting of quality dating from the 1640s." [2] Collector cited in checklist of the Seventh Anniversary Exhibition of German, Flemish, and Dutch Paintings, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, Kansas City, Missouri, December 1940-January 1941, no. 2. [3] Parke-Bernet auction catalogue, New York, June 4, 1942, p. 18. There are additional notes in the entry that refer to manuscript authentication letters from Dr. W. R. Valentiner, dated Sept. 30, 1936, and Dr. Max J. Friedlander, dated Sept. 27, 1936. It is unclear whether these authentication letters were based on photographs or actual examinations of the painting at an unknown location. [4] Seller listed in the Parke-Bernet auction catalogue of November 3-4, 1950, p. 20. [5] Seller listed in the Parke-Bernet auction catalogue of December 9-10, 1955, p. 16. [6] The Hart family's ownership of this painting is recorded in the checklist of the exhibition Kansas City Collects, The Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri, January 22-February 28, 1965, no. 1. The earliest correspondence with the Hart family concerning this painting in the Hood Museum of Art's donor file dates from 1986.