The provenance of a work of art is its history of ownership from creation to the present. Provenance research is an essential part of both art historical and museological scholarship, as provenance informs the understanding of how objects’ functions, meanings, and conditions have changed across space and time. Provenance research also provides great insight into the histories of collecting and the art market. Additionally, there are legal and ethical reasons to study the provenance of objects, as this history can often reveal if a work of art was acquired lawfully. If the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art uncovers evidence of illegal activities, the museum will take prudent and necessary steps to resolve the status of the collection item.
Beginning in the early 2000s, the National Museum of Asian Art expanded on the Smithsonian’s centralized efforts to explore the provenance histories of objects across its collections. The museum’s Provenance Program deepens our commitment to scholarship and transparency of collection information. We hope it serves as a model of promoting international awareness, of standardized research methodologies, and of information exchange between the international museum community and the public.
Provenance research is always changing, as primary sources pertinent to the ownership and movement of works of art are continuously uncovered. As a result, our researchers are regularly updating information on the museum’s collections. These histories are shared on individual object pages, found by searching the collection under the heading “Provenance.” The National Museum of Asian Art’s archives, the Freer and Sackler Archives also researches and shares the provenance of their collections. That provenance material can be found in the “Custodial History” and “Administrative Section” of each collection finding aid.
Highlights of the Provenance Program at the National Museum of Asian Art include:
- World War II-Era Provenance Research
- The Asian Art Provenance Connections Project
- Hidden Networks: The Trade of Asian Art
- Guidelines and Procedures for WWII Provenance Issues
- New Acquisitions page
- Preservation and Protection of Cultural Property
How to Read Provenance Entries:
The National Museum of Asian Art presents provenance in a chronological order, beginning with the earliest known owner. Relationships between owners and methods of transactions are indicated when known. Dates reflect the beginning and ending dates of ownership and are modified by prepositions when necessary. Footnotes are used to document research and to clarify information.
- Smithsonian Institution, Provenance in the World War II Era, 1933-1945
- Art Loss Register
- American Alliance of Museums, Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era
- Association of Art Museum Directors, The Registry of Resolutions of Claims for Nazi-Era Cultural Assets
- Association for Provenance Research (International Arbeitskreis Provenienzforschung)
- Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal
We welcome queries on the provenance of works in our collections. If you have any information or questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joanna M. Gohmann, PhD
Provenance Researcher & Object Historian
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art
The information presented on this website may be revised and updated at any time as ongoing research progresses or as otherwise warranted. Pending any such revisions and updates, information on this site may be incomplete or inaccurate or may contain typographical errors. Neither the Smithsonian nor its officers, employees, or agents make any representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of this site or information on this site. The use of this site and the information provided on it are subject to your own judgment. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery welcome information that would augment or clarify the ownership histories of objects in their collections.