03 December 2020
Provenance Research Today: Principles, Practice, Problems, the new Lund Humphries book edited by Judge Arthur Tompkins and launched at the International Catalogue Raisonné Association’s Annual Conference – ‘Provenance and the Catalogue Raisonné’, on 3rd December – brings together essays from a wide variety of contributors from many different disciplines – art and art history, law, archaeology, anthropology, criminology, forensic science, and others.
The sheer breadth of the contributors’ professional fields itself highlights the unifying theme of the book: that modern provenance research is unavoidably a multidisciplinary activity, and necessarily involves a wide-ranging and contextual enquiry into the broad social life of an art work, as well as the more transactional sequence of owners or possessors.
The complexity and importance of good provenance research is amply illustrated on a regular basis in the global media, with a very recent example being the latest bulletin from the extremely lengthy and complicated effort to restore the art once owned by Baron Mor Lipot Herzog, a Hungarian banker, as reported on in the New York Times in mid-October this year:
The judge presiding over perhaps the longest-running art restitution dispute had not been born when the family of Baron Mor Lipot Herzog, one of Hungary’s most prominent bankers, filed a claim in Budapest in 1945 for a collection of 2,500 artworks, Renaissance furniture and tapestries.
After 75 years, the case files from the still unresolved claim hold hundreds of thousands of pages in English, Hungarian, Russian, Polish, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch. There have been 11 court decisions, five appeals and 15 claims by roughly 30 lawyers in the United States, Hungary, Russia, Poland, France, Germany and Switzerland.
The vast majority of works from a collection that once included 10 El Grecos and paintings by Goya, Velázquez, Hals, Courbet, Van Dyck, Corot, Renoir, Monet and Gauguin, are still missing and the Herzog family believes that many are in Russia, Poland, France and many other countries where works are thought to have traveled in the chaos of World War II and its aftermath.
“It’s the third generation and fourth generation who is actively pursuing the quest to restitute the memory of the Herzog family, to right the provenance of the looted artworks,” said Agnes Peresztegi, a lawyer who has represented members of the family for 20 years.
The effort to establish both the provenance works of art such as these across generations, continents and decades, and the proper consequences of that provenance for their contemporary disposition, must necessarily range much wider than simply recording who sold what to whom. And it is that wide and diverse field of substantive enquiry that the expert contributors to Provenance Research Today illuminate and traverse.
The contributing authors discuss and dissect many aspects of provenance research in a way which bridges the gaps between previously somewhat isolated islands of excellence. Such a broad-based enquiry, calling on and applying many different expertises, underpins a clearer focus on a much bigger picture when examining a work’s provenance. The picture that emerges will be contextualized, nuanced, and built on a spectrum of viewpoints and evidence-based foundations.
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Editor: Judge Arthur Tompkins
Contributors: Lynda Albertson, Leila Amineddoleh, Susan J Cooke, Tess Davis, Amelie Ebbinghaus, Sharon Flescher, Gareth Fletcher, Andrea Lehmann, Simon Mackenzie, Jennifer Mass, Marc Masurovsky, Ariane Moser, James Ratcliffe, Lynn Rother, Iris Schmeisser, Jason Sousa, Marie Stolberg, Louisa Wood Ruby, Donna Yates.
Provenance Research Today: Principles, Practice, Problems is available to order here.