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Provenance research (also known as provenance indexing or origin research) involves the scientific investigation of the origin (provenance) and the changing ownership relationships of cultural assets, artworks, archives and books. It is also its task to clarify the whereabouts of missing cultural assets.
For researching the provenance of cultural assets in the collection, on the one hand, data found directly on the item in question is evaluated: inscriptions on the back, artist and ownership notations in the case of paintings; hand-written notes, marginalia, dedications, initials, stamps or book plates in the case of books and archives. On the other hand, external materials such as catalogues, records, art dealership sales documentation, auction and exhibition catalogues, archives or letters are consulted for information on earlier owners.
The systematic examination of our collection is undertaken, as it is also in other German museums, to take responsibility and research the origins of cultural assets acquired up until 1945. Provenance research in our German Maritime Museum has been undertaken since 2017 with the support of a temporary appointment through the German Lost Art Foundation in Magdeburg.
Since 2017 we have been carrying out a systematic check of our collection for cultural assets confiscated in the context of Nazi persecution (looted art). Here, two complexes from the museum's "founding collection" are the focus of investigation – those objects that first arrived at the museum upon its founding and which form the cornerstone of the collection (the German Maritime Museum was founded in 1971 and opened in 1975). This inventory comprises technological, social and economically historically-relevant objects, ship models, painting and graphics as well as archives and photographs concerning German maritime history.
The "founding collection" includes objects from a comprehensive private collection as well as those cultural assets which were passed on to us from the Morgenstern-Museum in Bremerhaven. The origins of some of these objects are not unequivocally clarified for the period between 1933 and 1945; there are some provenance gaps that need to be closed. In the course of the project, the backgrounds of collections and specific collectors are also researched.
Indications of looted art can also be found outside these two collection complexes: in the contemporary and also later purchases from art dealerships and in the taking over of private collections. For this reason, concrete suspicions are also investigated in a third complex.
The project is funded by the German Maritime Museum's own funds and sponsorship by the German Lost Art Foundation.
Our collection of objects and archives is the basis for our exhibition and research work. You can see various pieces from the collection in the exhibition or online.