Art dealer of the Avantgarde

Provenance research

Provenance research looks into the origins of works of art and is a classical discipline in art history. It delves into the history of a cultural object that starts when the work is created. It aims to trace who commissioned, acquired or dealt with a work of art as well as how, from whom, where, for how much and possibly for whom. In ideal cases the motivating factor behind the acquisition or sale is to be determined as well as the connetion in which the work stood to the individual owner(s) and/or holder(s) (reception) – whether in the private or public domain – and in what connection a work forms part of a collection and what role it played (collection history).

In 1911 Adolph Donath described provenance as a form of authority in Die Psychologie des Kunstsammelns as even the most audacious innovators bow their heads in the face of provenance. It is an indomitable document, testified itself by documents. Whoever is fortunate enough today to be able to call a picture his own that once formed part of the Beckfort Collection or the Marlborough, Hope or Ashburton colllections, collections that experts have sifted through and examined under a microscope hundreds of times, can barely be worried about even the most temperamental person undermining the authenticity of his pictures.”

For Flechtheim, a work’s pedigree, as he called provenance, was more important that an expertise: “Trading with pictures for which one needs an expertise reminds me of my dealings with Persian sultanas. And those dealers who need to have expertises know as much about the goods they trade in as I did of those ersatz currants […]. The pedigree [provenance] is more important than an expertise as a respectable company, should it make a mistake, will make amends, i.e. if it sells a picture that is later contested, it will take it back again immediately and without further ado.”