Munich pushes provenance research concerning possible Nazi looting

The project, led by Dr Vanessa-Maria Voigt and Dr Horst Kessler, came about by a chance find in a desk...



Museums in Munich finally began important research into the Nazi era in June: “The fate of Jewish art collectors and art dealers in Munich, 1933-45”. The project will be undertaken by two principal researchers based at the Neue Pinakothek museum, half funded by the Post for Provenance Research and Investigation at the Institute for Museum Research in Berlin, an organisation established by the government in 2008, and half by the participating museums in Munich.

The project focuses on material discovered in Munich City Museum in 2007, listing Jewish property confiscation from 1938-39 by the state police, with works of art distributed to various Munich museums. The documents name around 70 collectors and 30 dealers. This material will be supplemented by the names of collectors and dealers of Jewish origin in Munich recorded in the ALIU (Art Looting Investigation Unit) Report.

The Munich project is led by Dr Vanessa-Maria Voigt, who has worked as a provenance researcher at the Sprengel Museum in Hannover, and Dr Horst Kessler, a provenance researcher for the art collections and museums in Augsburg. The project was initiated by Dr Andrea Bambi, head of the department of provenance research at the Bavarian National Art Collections, who is managing it with Dr Irene Netta at the Lenbachhaus Municipal Gallery, and Bernhard Purin, director of Munich’s Jewish Museum.

The source material came to light by chance in 2007. Max Heiss, director of Munich City Museum from 1956-69, had locked the documents in a desk at the museum. As regional head of the Reich Chamber of Fine Art, Mr Heiss had played an important part in the “Aryanisation” of the Jewish art trade. The files were only revealed when the desk was opened during renovation work to the building.

The plan is to prepare biographies of Jewish collectors and art dealers based on these documents. But Mr Purin said: “We will not publish the names on the internet, because if there are any suspicious cases, the museums should have the opportunity

to seek a solution with entitled claimants in accordance with the Washington Declaration.”

However, the research project is not on the same scale as the major Dresden undertaking, begun in spring 2008. Using E15m from the federal state of Saxony, the Dresden State Collections is aiming to establish a database detailing the provenance of all the works in its 12 museums (The Art Newspaper, April 2009, p20).

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Munich’s new provenance research push'