5 Books on Art Provenance
A Shelfie from Kelly Davis, Research Assistant at the Getty Research Institute
Hi, I’m Kelly Davis, research assistant in the Getty Provenance Index at the Getty Research Institute. My background is in English, but I graduated with a master’s of library science and a master’s in art history from Pratt Institute in 2014. Books have been an important part of my life since I can remember. These are 5 that inspire and aid me in my work.
One of the first books to focus on Nazi-era provenance and also one of the most famous. The publication of this book in the early ‘90s launched an international interest in the repatriation of art looted from Jewish art dealers and families during World War II and encouraged organizations to create guidelines such as the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-era Confiscated Art (1998) and the AAM Guidelines Concerning the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era (2001). It inspired me to focus on provenance in my art historical studies and might have been the first step to where I am today.
While at the Last Bookstore in DTLA a few years back, a good friend of mine pulled this book out and handed it to me, exclaiming that she loved it and I had to read it. Somehow I hadn’t heard of it, but it piqued my interest as I enjoy nothing more than a gossipy read about the inner workings of established museums. While this isn’t about provenance specifically, and is more “pop” than some of the other academic texts on this list, it’s a fun and fascinating story and will certainly intrigue any lover of museums.
This, along with a small stack of other books written by J.H. Duveen, or about the House of Duveen by those with intimate knowledge of it, have been gracing my desk for months. Like Knoedler & Co., Duveen was instrumental in the migration of European art to America in the early 20th century, and also like Knoedler, the Getty Research Institute owns the Duveen archive. Here in the Provenance Index, we’re interested in seeing what more we can do with stock book records we have on site, so I’m boning up on my knowledge of this great firm. These books are older primary sources, meaning what is said in them could be quite subjective. Of course, this is also what makes them so delightful.
This book was a gift from Dr. Frima Hofrichter, one of my mentors in graduate school. Frima knew I had been accepted to the internship program here at the Getty, and what gift better than one on provenance published by the GRI and edited by Gail Feigenbaum, one of our esteemed associate directors? If Nicholas’s book was my introduction to “pop” provenance, this was my introduction to the academic career path ahead of me. A collection of essays on topics from collector’s marks to provenance in the Third Reich, reading this acquainted me with a number of respected scholars in the field, and names I would encounter during my time at the Getty.
The quintessential reference for provenance research, not so much a book you read but one you keep coming back to. Although the guide is being refined as we move forward in the 21st century (see the ArtTracks project at the Carnegie Museum of Art for more info), this book is still the standard for curators, librarians, collectors, and anyone else involved in provenance and the history of collecting. It’s been invaluable for the past few years as I’ve worked on the Knoedler & Co. stock books database. The appendices are particularly useful to a researcher, with information on dealer archives and locations, as well as a list of “red-flag” names to watch out for when dealing with World War II provenance.