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Provenance Research

Provenance Research at the National Gallery of Canada

Provenance research is essential if we are to understand the historical, social and economic context in which art works were created and collected. Tracing the ownership history of an object has also laid the foundation for new academic disciplines such as the history of collecting, patronage and studies of changes in taste over time. The National Gallery of Canada has a long tradition of investigating the history of its collection: the provenance of many works in the collection is well known and has been published in our official catalogues since the early 19th century.

Since 2000, Museums around the world have become increasingly concerned with works of art that were purchased, sold, or created during the Nazi era. From the time of Hitler’s rise in 1933 through to end of World War II in 1945, the Nazis conducted a massive confiscation of art and cultural property across Europe. In the immediate postwar years, many works were returned to their rightful owners or heirs, but others had already entered new collections through the international art market.

The reconstruction of an object’s ownership history can be complex and difficult. Archival documents, dealer records, sales catalogues and individuals such as previous owners need to be tracked down in the attempt to catalogue the object’s history. Documentation, particularly for objects that have not changed hands for generations does not always survive. Private collectors frequently bought or sold works anonymously through dealers or auction houses that were obliged to keep collectors’ names confidential. Many of these dealers are no longer in business and their records are only partly preserved, if not lost or destroyed.

The National Gallery of Canada is committed to documenting the provenance of its collection. We publish this information in accordance with the Guidelines Concerning the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era issued in 1998 by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and adopted in 1999 by the Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization (CAMDO). The National Gallery of Canada publishes known provenance information for 105 paintings and sculptures that were created before 1945 and acquired after 1933.

Édouard Vuillard

© Estate of Édouard Vuillard / ADAGP (Paris) / SODRAC (Montréal)
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The Salon of Madame Aron (1904 - 1934 )

Only one painting from the collection has since been identified as looted and was then restituted to its rightful owners. Seized by the Nazis in 1942, Edouard Vuillard’s Le Salon de Madame Aron was returned to the heirs of Alfred Lindon by decision of the Board of Trustees in the summer of 2006.

Click here to search our collection for all works with Provenance Data.