Provenance: The Lost Story

Provenance: The Lost Story brings together a select group of 10 works from the Museum’s permanent collection of European art, whose gaps in their origin have been the subject of study. The exhibition present the findings of such a study, revealing aspects that are not visible to the naked eye and will show little-known aspects about the research process.

Provenance: The Lost Story emerges as an extension of the Nazi-Era Provenance Research Project, an initiative funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, in 2018, to research a selection of works from the Museum. Initially, the study included six works of art and was carried out with the help of the independent researcher Melina Cortés and the advice of the renowned journalist Héctor Feliciano. Then four additional works were also included.

During World War II, the Nazi regime managed to occupy several European countries and organized a system to loot, seize and destroy, on an unprecedented scale, the cultural heritage of public and private collections. For this reason, museums have a responsibility to investigate the ownership history of works of art in their collections, with particular attention to those objects created before 1946 and acquired after 1932, which were or may have been in Europe during the war.

Provenance research is part of curatorial work in museums and it is common for works of art not to have full provenance: transactions of works of art were not always recorded and circumstances of persecution, emigration and the war itself caused many documents to be lost or destroyed. It is important for museums to investigate the past of objects that have gaps in their history. Provenance studies are rigorous investigations that contribute to obtaining the ownership history of a work of art. The study seeks to answer questions such as where has the work been? To whom has it belonged? How was it transferred throughout its history? In this way, doubts can be clarified and discover if, at any time, the objects changed ownership illegally.

Research can also help prove its authenticity or even attribute it to a particular artist. Many works of art entered American collections through the post-war art market, donations or purchases in good faith, in which the legitimacy of its origin was not questioned. In this context, Luis A. Ferré, founder of the Museo de Arte de Ponce, began collecting European art in 1957, when there was still no collective awareness of the problems related to the origin of the works after the war. This is not to say that it acquired illicit artwork, but like many other European art museums in America, the Museo de Arte de Ponce joins efforts to maintain transparency in its collection. This exhibition highlights the research process, to better understand the past of these objects until their arrival at the Museum.