Investigation into and clarification of “provenance” examines the background history of a work of art from the point in time when it was created all the way to the present. An attempt is made to bring to light all circumstances and changes with regard to ownership. This field of investigation has grown in importance in both cultural-political and social terms. It addresses not only the problematic issue of the looting of art during military confrontations, but also the appropriation of colonial cultural assets. Provenance research is particularly important in Germany because, during the era of National Socialism (1933-1945), there frequently occurred forced sales of works and illegal expropriations of the possessions of mostly Jewish art collectors.
In the “Washington Declaration” (1998), Germany along with further countries obliged itself to conduct searches in museum collections for art which was illegally confiscated during the era of National Socialism and to find just solutions together with the former owners or their descendants.
These solutions differ from case to case and can involve either the returning of the works or their remaining in a collection.
In the framework of a research project, the Kunstmuseum Bonn is examining those works of its own collection which were created before 1945. The principal focus is on paintings and works on paper by August Macke and the Rhenish Expressionists.
The project is being supported by the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste; the findings are documented on the website and in the exhibitions of the Kunstmuseum Bonn.
Since 2020, the Ministry for Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia has been supporting the art and culture museums with the innovative undertaking “Voluntary Research Program Kunstmuseen NRW” in fulfilling their core tasks: collecting, preserving and researching. For this purpose, the program on the one hand strengthens the individual profile of the participating museums, and on the other hand supports the education of young scholars at the museum as well as facilitating their interconnectedness within the scientific community.
The research program for the first time offers volunteers a training program which is devoted specifically to the opening up and investigating of museum collections. An accompanying scholarly program, organized and realized by the project-direction and -coordination at the art-historical Institut für Kunstgeschichte at Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf allows the volunteers an exchange of ideas among themselves as well as an active participation in current discourses with regard to museums and research.
The goal of the Voluntary Research Program 2020 at the Kunstmuseum Bonn is a systematic structuring of the Photographic Collection on the basis of pictorial-theoretical, thematic and current issues. In extensive dialogue with institutions specialized in photography such as the Museum Folkwang and the Folkwang Universität der Künste, the project pursues the goal of making the collection available in a broad spectrum for research and scholarship, and thereby contributing to a major concern of both the federal and state governments, namely the assimilation of research findings regarding the individual photographic collections.