Provenance research is the study of an object’s history of ownership, from the time of its creation to the present day. An essential facet of art-historical research, provenance research can provide information about an object’s condition, function, or value. It can also illustrate broader historical narratives, such as the biography of former owners, histories of the art market, and collectors’ tastes.

It is rare to have complete provenance for an object, especially for those that are centuries old. Missing information might be due to lost or destroyed documentation, or may be the result of a gift, purchase, or inheritance being made without written record of the exchange. In exceptional circumstances, research into the ownership history of an object can reveal changes in ownership caused by theft or plunder. Provenance research helps to ensure that museums collect in an ethical and legal way.

The Gallery provides provenance information for objects in the collection via its online collection pages. Provenance is subject to change as new information becomes available. Provenance research is ongoing, and the Gallery welcomes any information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in its collection.

If you have provenance-related inquiries or information, please contact artgalleryinfo@yale.edu.

Visitors attending a provenance research workshop.

Antiquities and Archaeological Material

Antiquities and archeological material have been at risk for illicit excavation and smuggling. The Gallery condemns the looting of archeological sites and the trafficking of cultural property. Curators thoroughly research provenance prior to acquisition, making every effort to obtain reliable documentation that the object left its probable country of modern discovery prior to 1970 or was legally exported from the probable country of modern discovery after 1970. The Gallery makes acquisition decisions following diligent research and retains its right to make informed judgments about acquiring works of art. The treaty signed on November 14, 1970, at the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property provides the Gallery with the 1970 benchmark date for collecting documentation.

Research is ongoing and antiquities and archaeological property in our collection with unconfirmed provenance will be added to the following list as they are found. These works of art also appear on the AAMD’s Object Registry.

Antiquities and Archaeological Material with Provenance Documentation Gaps

Funeral Mask

Maker: Unknown

Alabastron with Typhon

Artist: (Close to) Erlenmeyer Painter (Greek, Corinthian, active ca. 600–575 B.C.)

Nazi-Era Provenance Research

The Nazi regime was responsible for the confiscation, destruction, displacement, and coerced sale of hundreds of thousands of art objects across continental Europe. Though some recovery and restitution occurred during the postwar period, thousands of artworks remain missing to this day. The Gallery seeks to document the ownership history for all works of art that were made in or before 1945 and whose known provenance suggests that they may have been in continental Europe during the Nazi period.

Objects in our collection whose ownership histories remain unconfirmed between the period 1933 and 1945 and are suspected to have been in Europe are listed below. Research is ongoing and objects with unconfirmed provenance will be added to this list as they are identified.

Objects with Nazi-Era Provenance Documentation Gaps

An Allegory of Intemperance

Artist: Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, ca. 1450–1516)

A Jester

Artist: Marx Reichlich (Austrian, active ca. 1485–1520)

Banana Harvest

Artist: Henri Rousseau, called Le Douanier Rousseau (French, 1844–1910)

Still Life with Fruit

Artist: Odilon Redon (French, 1840–1916)

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