STRATEGY FOR PROVENANCE RESEARCH
In March 2023, the Board of the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft and the management of the Kunsthaus Zürich adopted a provenance research strategy which builds on strategies already in place in Swiss museums. (*3) As set out below, it includes, among other things, a systematic review of new acquisitions and loans, transparent and solution-oriented approach to sales outside the area of Nazi rule, as well as a proactive approach where there are suspicions of cultural property confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution and, where the circumstances are clear, a firm approach.
1. Ongoing systematic review of collection holdings
The Kunsthaus Zürich will review its own collection as a priority, ahead of existing long-term loans. The review will focus primarily on establishing the prehistory of the works of art created before 1945 that entered the Kunsthaus’ collection after 30 January 1933. The aim is to ensure that no cultural property confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution remains unidentified in the collection holdings. The research results will be continually updated in the museum’s internal database and will be available to all members of Kunsthaus staff. The results of completed research projects will be published via the online collection. The entry for each object researched will assign it to a category, from ‘provenance certain and not suspicious’, to ‘clear indications of cultural property confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution’.
A number of individual projects jointly financed by the Federal Office of Culture (FOC) have been completed to date, including the online publication of the provenance of works in the Collection of Paintings and Sculptures (2016–2018); the investigation into the acquisitions for the Collection of Prints and Drawings in the years 1933–1950 (2017–2019) and the cataloguing of the letterpress copybooks (outgoing correspondence from the Kunsthaus) for the years 1933–1945 (2021–2022) from the Kunsthaus’ extensive archival holdings.
Two projects supported by the FOC are currently being implemented, one to research the gifts by Leopold Ruzicka (1949), Nelly Bär (1968) and Walter Haefner (1973–1995) (2021–2023), which now belong to the Kunsthaus’ collection; and one to investigate the acquisitions for the Collection of Paintings and Sculptures, 1946–1960 (2023–2024).
To ensure that the ongoing review of the collection holdings can be continued in future, it will be necessary to create new permanent positions and procure third-party resources. A combination of the Kunsthaus’ own funds and support from the FOC and others has enabled the creation of two additional positions in 2023. The Executive Council of the Canton of Zurich has also committed a substantial sum from the culture fund for provenance research at the Kunsthaus Zürich. (*4)
2. Systematic review of new acquisitions and new loans
The provenances of new acquisitions created prior to 1945, including gifts, bequests and long-term loans, will be reviewed at the Kunsthaus Zürich before they are accepted. The acquisition of objects that constitute property confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution, or the introduction of which into Switzerland violates national or international law, is to be avoided by a meticulous review of their provenance, with the aim of ensuring that only works which are not suspicious are integrated into the collection. Large-scale new acquisitions that cannot be reviewed within a short timeframe will initially only be accepted provisionally and conditionally.
The Kunsthaus Zürich will review objects in its own collection as a priority, ahead of existing and new long-term loans. Temporary external loans for the Kunsthaus’ own temporary exhibitions will be reviewed by way of an initial check, provided this can be done using reasonable efforts. To ensure the Kunsthaus’ provenance research staff have sufficient time to prepare for specific reviews of planned loans, they will be notified by the relevant departments at the earliest opportunity.
3. Transparent and solution-oriented approach to sales outside the area of Nazi rule
The Kunsthaus Zürich declares that sales made by emigrants between 30 January 1933 and 8 May 1945 outside the area of Nazi rule will be subjected to particular attention. In-depth research into these holdings will be treated as a priority in the coming years. Where it is obvious that a work was sold exclusively as a result of emigration attributable to persecution – for example, when a rapid sale was conducted to enable the person concerned to flee Nazi-controlled territory; they were not able to dispose freely of the proceeds of sale; a sale price was set that was not appropriate when measured against comparable market transactions;
or the sale was carried out to secure the livelihood of someone who, for instance, was prohibited from practising their profession or was subject to other measures of state persecution in their country of residence – the Kunsthaus Zürich is, in accordance with the Washington Principles recognized by Switzerland in 1998 and the follow-up Terezín Declaration of 2009, prepared, provided this can be done using reasonable efforts, to locate heirs, notify them accordingly and, subject to the circumstances of the specific case, seek mutually agreed ‘just and fair solutions’.
4. Proactive approach to suspicions of cultural property confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution
The Kunsthaus Zürich will, on its own initiative, conduct in-depth research into works of art whose provenance between 30 January 1933 and 8 May 1945 is uncertain or where there are indications that they are cultural property confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution. Where there are substantiated indications of cultural property confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution, the Kunsthaus Zürich will attempt, through research, to identify the presumed claimants (heirs), to the extent that this can be done using reasonable efforts. These persons will be contacted proactively by the Kunsthaus with a view to jointly seeking a ‘just and fair solution’. The same procedure will apply after clarification of entitlement in the case of external claims to a work from the Kunsthaus’s holdings.
The spectrum of ‘just and fair solutions’ extends from, for example, publicly acknowledging the circumstances of confiscation for the purposes of memory culture by an exhibition or mentioning the provenance history when the work is displayed in the museum to paying compensation; selling the work to a third party and apportioning the proceeds; or having a third party purchase it and subsequently lend it to the museum; or indeed returning the work (restitution). The works subject to in-depth research will be identified to the public by means of a specific notice in the exhibition rooms.
5. Active education, specialist networking and online publication of archive holdings
The Kunsthaus will reflect on its own collection history and organize events and work presentations on topics related to provenance research. Provenance research staff will inform employees of the Kunsthaus about current issues and developments in provenance research by means of handouts and specific workshops. They will work actively with the curators as well as the Art Education and Communications & Marketing departments with the aim of presenting the historical contexts and the histories of specific objects to visitors as transparently and precisely as possible. Research results will be communicated appropriately in guided tours, publications, online articles and lectures as well as the Kunsthaus’ own exhibition projects and work presentations.
The Kunsthaus supports international networking among researchers and favours the international exchange of information. As far as possible, all members of provenance research staff will be both members of the Schweizerischer Arbeitskreis Provenienzforschung (Swiss Provenance Research Association, SAP/ASP) and associated with the international Arbeitskreis Provenienzforschung e.V. They will meet established standards of scientific research.
The Kunsthaus Zürich will continue to publish further selected holdings from the extensive, publicly accessible archives of the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft and the Kunsthaus Zürich at digital.kunsthaus.ch. The documents that are of particular relevance to international provenance research to date include the exhibition catalogues (1801–1949), the annual reports (1885–2021) and the outgoing correspondence contained in the letterpress copybooks (1933–1945).
Decision-making procecsses and powers for 'just and fair' solutions
In each individual case, decisions regarding a ‘just and fair solution’ will be taken by the Director’s provenance committee on the basis of the results of provenance research. The committee will comprise the Director, the Collection Curator, the Head of Provenance Research and a legal representative. It will be assisted by an independent body in the form of an international commission of experts to provide advice and formulate proposals. It will then submit a proposal regarding further action to be taken to the Board, headed by the Chair.
In the case of works owned by the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft, §17 para. 9 of the Articles of Association *5 stipulates that the power to take decisions regarding a ‘just and fair solution’ in accordance with the Washington Principles rests with the Board, headed by its Chair.
Key concepts in provenance research
Provenance research aims to clarify and publish the origins and ownership of works of art right back to the time of their creation. It focuses in particular on works that changed hands during the years of Nazi rule in Germany and the associated takeover of other parts of Europe between 1933 and 1945.
Nazi persecution confiscated cultural property
Cultural property confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution (Nazi-looted art)
The term ‘Nazi-looted art’ refers to ‘art that had been confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted’. It comprises cultural property that was either violently seized (‘confiscated’) from its (predominantly Jewish) owners by the Nazis, or removed from them by way of compulsory sales ordered by the Nazi authorities. While direct confiscations occurred primarily in the areas occupied by Germany from 1939 onwards, the sales under duress carried out within Germany were conducted primarily in application of the ‘Nuremberg Laws’ enacted in 1935, which formed the basis for the systematic persecution and expropriation of Jews. Consequently, it is today assumed that any proceeds from such forced sales – even at market prices – were either wholly or partially denied to the former owners.
Looted art in the form of confiscations by the Nazi authorities was the subject of the Washington Principles of 1998, under which the signatory states – including Switzerland – committed to seek just and fair solutions to cases that had not been resolved by restitution, between the pre-war owners or their heirs on the one hand, and the current owners on the other. Looting of art resulting from forced sales and other measures executed under duress formed the subject of the follow-up Terezín Declaration of 2009, which extended the concept of looted art to include ‘cultural property confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution’. This is intended to bring cultural property sold as a consequence of Nazi persecution within the scope of rules based on the Washington Principles.
Just and fair solutions
Just and fair solutions
The spectrum of ‘just and fair solutions’ extends from publicly acknowledging the circumstances of confiscation for the purposes of memory culture by an exhibition or mentioning the provenance history when the work is displayed in the museum to paying compensation; selling the work to a third party and apportioning the proceeds; or having a third party purchase it and subsequently lend it to its current owners; or indeed returning the work (restitution).
Acquisitions for the Collection 1946–1960 (2023–2024)
Acquisitions for the Collection of Paintings and Sculptures, 1946–1960 (2023–2024)
The project "The Acquisitions for the Collection of Paintings and Sculptures 1946-1960 (2023-2024)", cofunded by the Federal Office of Culture, will systematically investigate the changes of ownership during the Nazi period between 1933 and 1945 of the post-war acquisitions between 1946 and 1960 of the Collection of Paintings and Sculptures of the Kunsthaus Zürich. In a first step, the project involves examining the existing provenance details of 248 works. In a second step, around 80 works will be examined and documented on the original and the provenances of these works will be checked, supplemented and researched.
The results can be seen in our list of works (in German) and will be progressively published in the Online Collection.
The Donations Ruzicka/Bär/Haefner (2021–2023)
The Provenances of the Donations Leopold Ruzicka (1949), Nelly Bär (1968) & Walter Haefner (1973–1995) (2021–2023)
Supported by the Federal Office of Culture, the project entitled ‘The provenances of the gifts by Leopold Ruzicka (1949), Nelly Bär (1968) & Walter Haefner (1973–1995)’ investigates the changes of ownership of the three central post-war gifts during the Nazi period from 1933 to
1945. It examines the 74 original, pre-1945 paintings, sculptures and drawings from the three gifts, documents them and reviews the art-historical corpus, as well as verifying, researching and supplementing their provenances. The project covers the 47 works that now make up the Old Master collection of Leopold Ruzicka, as well as the two prestigious gifts of French modernist works made by Nelly Bär and Walter Haefner, comprising 28 and 14 items respectively. These will constitute the first examples of systematic research, documentation and publication relating to the extensive and pivotal accessions from private lenders and donors.
The results will be progressively published in the Online Collection.
Letterpress copybooks of the ZKG / KHZ 1933–1945 (2021–2022)
Research project: letterpress copybooks of the ZKG / KHZ 1933–1945
Wilhelm Wartmann (1882–1970), the first Director of the Kunsthaus Zürich, served in that role from 1909 to 1949. The extensive administrative files from his period in office have been preserved almost in their entirety. Thanks to their alphabetical registers of addressees, the letterpress copybooks containing all outgoing communications from the Kunsthaus are an excellent tool for accessing the entire archive and enable all items of business to be found relatively easily. The 63 volumes covering the years 1933 to 1945 that are being published here for the first time include details of exhibitions, purchases, loans of artworks, items deposited, sales, imports and exports, and much more besides – information that is not available anywhere else.
The letterpress copybooks are divided into two series: ‘Exhibition’ and ‘General Correspondence’. Within each, the letters are filed chronologically, making it easy to browse through a given period. The registers of addressees have been transcribed, so that it is possible to search by names of persons and entities. However, the historical register entries are not always complete.
The volumes are being published progressively, starting with ‘Exhibition’, as part of a project supported by the Federal Office of Culture.
Letterpress copybooks online
Collection of Prints and Drawings 1933–1950 (2017–2019)
Collection of Prints and Drawings research project 1933–1950 (2017–2019)
Supported by a grant from the Federal Office of Culture, this project aimed to research and make public the provenances of all new acquisitions made by the Collection of Prints and Drawings from 1933 to 1950. During this period, some 10,000 works on paper were donated to or acquired by the Collection. The research project focused on some 3,900 items.
None of the works showed clear evidence of having changed hands due to confiscation and therefore being Nazi-looted art. Approximately two thirds of the provenances can be classified as unproblematic and complete, or as incomplete but without any indication of questionable changes of ownership. In the remaining cases the previous owner at least was successfully identified, but there is a need for further research.
The results can be seen in our list of works (in German) and will be progressively published in the online collection.
Download final report (in German)
Online collection for provenance (2017–2018)
Online publication of the provenance of works in the Collection of Paintings and Sculptures (2017–2018)
The provenance of works in the Collection of Paintings and Sculptures were reviewed when the main catalogue of paintings and sculptures was being compiled between 2002 and 2007, with a particular focus on the works donated to the Kunsthaus since the 1950s. The documented provenances of the works have been published in the main catalogue and online. They are also being progressively added to the online collection, which has been developed with support from the Federal Office of Culture.
All research projects supported by:
A just and fair solution
Agreement with the heirs of Alfred Sommerguth & Jean and Ida Baer
In 2009, the Kunsthaus staged an exhibition on the work of Albert von Keller to mark a major gift of his paintings from the estate of the Zurich art collector Oskar A. Müller in 2007. On the basis of the catalogue compiled for the exhibition, external experts established that one of the paintings in the gift, ‘Madame la Suire’, could be looted art. Once owned by the Jewish art collector Alfred Sommerguth, the work turned out to have been compulsorily auctioned by the Nazi authorities in Berlin a few months before the outbreak of the Second World War. The Kunsthaus reviewed the evidence and, when the suspicions were confirmed, offered to return the work to the original owners’ heirs or purchase it from them. However, the heirs generously decided to donate the oil painting to the Kunsthaus, merely requesting that a notice to this effect be placed by the work when it is exhibited.
Alfred von Keller’s ‘Nude on a Beach / Evening’, which was stolen from the collection of Jean and Ida Baer by the Nazis in 1940, was also affected. In 2012, following an agreement involving the heirs and the gift of Hannelore Müller, it was acquired by the Kunsthaus.